As one of Tsebo’s longest-serving executives, Jack Ferreira believes that people are at the heart of the company’s success. From in-house training and mentoring to client centricity and the progressive passion Tsebo has for transformation and community development.
“Happy Birthday to a very young and vibrant 50-year-old company. I wish you many more successful years. Keep treating your employees well, and they will respect and treat you well. To the employees of Tsebo – set your goals and strive relentlessly to achieve your objectives and never give up on your dreams – life is short.”
Flashback to where it all started for Fedics and Tsebo
Fedics is the partial acronym for Federale Volksbelegging (FED) and Imperial Cold Storage (ICS), forming a triumvirate partnership with Gardner Merchant – a subsidiary of Trust House Forte Hotels.
“As far as I know, the first arrangement entered into was with Western Cape Province administration to provide frozen meals to the then-new Tygerberg hospital. The factory was set up (at great expense) at Paarden Eiland to produce the meals. Various specialised staff was brought from Britain to assist. The head office was upstairs from the factory. ICS was going to be the distributor, but Tygerberg decided to set up its own factory, and plans went awry for Fedics.”
Fedics then broadened its horizons to obtain catering clients on a management fee basis, using the client’s facilities with the option of frozen meals. Growth in the early stages was primarily through South African-based partners. The catering financial model started to evolve to a risk-based model in the late 90’s, where Fedics took over more of the catering financial risk.
“This made Fedics the contract catering pioneer in South Africa. The concept of contract catering did not exist in the country at the time.”
Jack’s Tsebo journey begins …
Having started his career at the then-iconic Carlton Hotel, which sent him overseas to gain international experience through Cornell University, Jack was well placed for a successful career in hotel catering. But with a keen eye on what the future holds, he decided to make the move to Tsebo, a decision he’s never regretted.
“A friend at a placement agency suggested I speak to John Moore, then HR director at Fedics. I was hesitant because I had a false perception that Fedics was an ‘institutional caterer’, but my friend convinced me to go for the interview. It lasted two hours, and at the end of it, I was offered a job as District Manager for a large client’s catering outlet.
Jack maintains that hotel school and the experience gained at a premier South African hotel were nothing compared with his formative years at Tsebo. “It was the best move I could have ever made. How wrong I was about institutional catering!”
A challenging first day that became an inspiring life lesson
Sometimes it’s the challenges in life that positively define us. This was the case for Jack, who was thrown in the deep end with a “prickly” client on his very first day as a District Manager overseeing 13 outlets for Fedics. This experience, he says, defined how he treats new employees.
“It was 14 October 1985, a day before my birthday, and it’s a day I will always remember because it was stressful. I arrived at the head office, was handed the keys to my company car – a well-used Toyota Cressida – and was told I was about to be late for a client meeting. On the way there I ran out of petrol and missed my first meeting. They had forgotten to give me the petrol card and the key to the petrol cap. It was a day that defined how I treated new employees. I always try to make them feel special on the first day so that they will remember their induction period with fondness.”
At the time, Fedics was a young company. While this came with the advantages of fresh thinking and youthful vigour, Jack believes Tsebo has matured in the best way possible – optimising its care for colleagues and communities while maintaining a culture of fun and innovation.
Building a legacy
From District Manager to his current position as Projects Executive, Tsebo Catering Solutions, Jack has travelled the country and the continent to serve in a variety of challenging, creative, and affirming positions. His most notable achievement, and the one he is proudest of, was his position as Managing Director, Inland, which he held for 11 years – the longest anyone has maintained this title.
“I have been very fortunate to have fulfilled many roles at Tsebo. I’ve served on just about every task team and have moved from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape and back again, as well as from Project Manager to Managing Director.”
Another memorable achievement was when Fedics received a Guinness World Record, which Jack instigated by getting the team in the Eastern Cape to cook up 32.66kg of fish and chips. Although the record has subsequently been broken, it was a proud and happy moment in Fedics’ history.
“In my 36 years at Tsebo, I’ve never been bored, and I’ve been allowed to fulfil many roles in the company, so I never stagnated. Fedics has always been a learning and teaching company. I have benefitted significantly from this learning culture, from formal executive programmes to overseas exposure and direct involvement in several project teams.”
“My current role in the company is perfect for me as it allows me to leverage my experience to give back to the up-and-coming management. It’s no longer about me pursuing my next promotion; it’s about me helping someone else to get their next promotion – and I’m happy with that.”
The key to a 50-year strong heritage
From his current vantage point as one of Tsebo’s longest-serving senior executives, Jack is uniquely placed to understand the ebb and flow of challenges that face every business, from economic downturns, changes in political leadership to the current Covid-19 pandemic.
He believes the key to Tsebo’s success over the past half-century lies in the company’s visionary leadership and the fact that its shareholders have passionately shared in this vision. Tsebo has also always adopted a “people first” approach and has remained ahead of the curve when it comes to transformation.
Starting with the former CEO of Fedics, David Wigley, who was instrumental in driving transformation in Tsebo and the catering industry in the early 1980s.
“He was the first person to start the transformation process way before 1994, way before anyone told us to do it. Tsebo’s culture of care was personified by David, who was an astute businessman with a focus on the upliftment of people.”
Over the years and to this day, Tsebo has been fortunate to have forward-thinking leadership that sees past the humdrum of normal business, believes in the company’s transformation journey and expansion into the rest of Africa.
“On a personal level, Gunther Wecke was my mentor. He put me on an accelerated growth path in my early years at Tsebo and was extremely highly regarded. He taught me about risk management and client relationships. That was where my learning really started, with an individual who was so knowledgeable.”
“Tsebo has always operated off a solid foundation and has stood the test of time as a result. Client centricity is at the centre of everything we do. I’ve always followed the three Rs of client retention – Relationships, Reliability, and Responsiveness. This is supported by engaged employees and a culture of innovation, operational excellence, and growth.”
The future of catering
Although catering is an industry that Covid-19 has hit hard, Jack is optimistic about the future of catering at Tsebo.
“What is truly exciting is watching the new leadership team embrace the challenges that we are facing. I see the likes of our new Culinary Director changing the landscape of catering to accommodate new and fresh ways of nourishing our clients’ success.”
“Fedics was the first catering company in the country and has always led the way when it comes to innovation, product offering, and robust systems. But it’s our people that set us apart from our competitors. Our offering is just a byproduct of excellent people.”
“In 36 years, I have received 432 paycheques from Tsebo, and not once were they late or incorrect. I see this as a metaphor for the care Tsebo takes of its employees. Tsebo has been good to me. If I were given the opportunity to re-live my working life, I would do the same again.”