Brain Food: David Thomas - If I had to start again...

During university vacations, I took a job on the production line at Kellogg's, putting plastic submarines into Cornflakes packets. Wondering whether it made any difference to sales sparked my interest in brands and how they are managed and marketed. After university, I worked in grocery retailing and although I enjoyed it, the best decision I made was to follow up a call from a headhunter to join Chef & Brewer.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The leisure industry was a major change. Later, I joined Whitbread, again to manage pubs, but taking on the role of managing director of its restaurant and leisure division provided the greatest opportunity. It was a fantastic challenge, very exciting and professionally very satisfying in that it's now the core of Whitbread's business.

If I had my time again, I'd listen more closely to the person who first told me that the secret to success is understanding the consumer, their needs, desires and aspirations, not just today but tomorrow. If I'd realised the importance of gaining an insightful view of the consumer and taken all my decisions with them at the forefront of my mind, I'd have achieved a lot more, more quickly. Travel Inn is a great example where I pushed the team to trust in our consumer insight and where it paid off. I learnt early on that once you have made your strategic decision, you must put your full weight behind it. If, as a leader, you don't exhibit personal confidence, you'll create doubt around you. Motivated, capable and confident people are the key to making things happen in any business. My formula for success is happy people = happy customers = happy shareholders. It has certainly worked for me.

David Thomas CBE joined Whitbread in 1984, became a director in 1991 and was appointed CEO in 1997.

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