IWD 2024 - Katie Akers

A little about your career journey leading to where you are now.

Starting as a spritely 16-year-old busser in TGI Fridays Croydon; cleaning tables, I was keen to get a job that offered tips and an hourly wage, it seemed like a no brainier at that age!! Progressing to waitress when I was 18, dabbling at being a door host, learning the bar tests and working for free on Wednesdays in the kitchen to gain all the exposure I could, even when they didn’t have the hours for me to learn.  I quickly conquered FOH and BOH and became a New store opening trainer, proudly opening Braehead and Poole 10 days apart. I learnt not only hospitality, but what motivated me and how to motivate others. At 21, and then considered old enough, I finally became a manager, and by 24 I became the youngest GM in the company. As GM I turned around Kingston & subsequently Guildford TGI Fridays and swiftly progressed to the youngest Operations Manager at 28. The process, structure, and standards I learned from my 15 years with TGIs has set me for success and I couldn’t be more grateful for my time seeing what 8 years of double-digit growth looks like. I spent longer at TGI Fridays than I did at school and without a doubt, I learnt more. 

Hungry for more exposure and eager to have a London region, I jumped ship and embraced Carluccio’s for a 4-year roller coaster.  It was here where I learnt how adaptable I am, with an ever-changing climate as it struggled to tackle collapse, hopping regions as needed, including Dorchester. I remember asking “Um, where is Dorchester?”, I applied all I had learned. Having experienced the highs of the industry with TGI’s, soon came the lows; I progressed to Central London Operations Manager, feeling my aspirations had come true, then weeks later Carluccio’s went into CVA when Covid hit March 2020. 8 Ops managers went to 2, 78 sites diminished to 28, I became Operations Manager for the South of England. Proud to have survived but heartbroken for the beautiful people & teams who lost their jobs and the sites that would never open their doors again.  Laying team members off over the phone, some who couldn’t speak English, it was brutal times. We went on to reopen the 26 sites under Boparan Restaurants and I stayed for a further 17 months. 

Wanting to continue my progression and in search of a people culture that reflected my own values and leadership style, I joined Megans Restaurants who were on an expansion journey, and I was keen to be a part of it. I’ve often found that I learn most from the challenging times, although I wouldn’t choose them, and in Megans we had something so special. The people who cared, all pulling in the same direction and such a beautiful brand. I put my heart and soul into it and through a swift change in leadership I was made Head of Operations. 

I contacted Kate from Core on the hunt to grow into my role, I waited for the right opportunity, and she introduced me to Market Halls, whom I have been with over a year. A food hall concept where I have been blessed with finding Andy Lewis Pratt and Katie Rose, two individuals I have been searching for, for a long time. The company and I are flourishing in an organic people-based culture, growing my skill set and knowledge; now responsible for not just Operations but the integral Trader relationship, Procurement, Sales & Events, the evolution of menus and operational strategy and on track to open two venues a year!

What inspired you to pursue a leadership role?

Recognising great work and being part of a team

The desire to recognise great work, so people feel good, as a team to deliver amazing results! The same way I was made to feel when I ran around TGI Fridays as a 16-year-old, being patted on the back for doing a great job. It seems so basic but having come from a challenging childhood where I felt invisible, it made me feel like I made a difference for the first time, and it was really powerful. 

What is or are your biggest career achievements?

Progressing to Head of Operations, at times has been a battle and a test of resilience, not letting the challenges deter me, refusing to let poor leadership knock me down and keeping my focus whilst raising two beautiful girls, makes me very proud. If I’d known a year ago when I joined Market Halls, we would now be delivering 55% YOY growth at Christmas I wouldn’t have believed it and this year has really shown the art of the possible.  

How did you develop your leadership skills?

Observing the good and the bad in everyone, identifying which aspects; behavioural, process, presence, gained great results and grew teams and being mindful of all I have seen, that did not. 

How do you define your leadership style?

I have always been a very open & honest leader, balancing the honest conversations people deserve to improve, with all the praise, recognition and being available to allow people to feel heard. Together with helping them to understand how they can improve or why they aren't performing, always being considered in my approach so they are constructive and factual conversations. My teams know where they stand with me, and this has always been fed back as a positive attribute. I’m strategic in execution, with a commercial mindset that has to be clear on the goal and hands on when needed. 

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?

That it is always about the people and the team, they are key. Without them I am a woman who drinks far too much coffee, sitting at a laptop. Ensuring we all work together, and each employee is happy, motivated, recognised, developing in their roles, and living the work life balance they deserve to thrive, is integral to running a successful business that needs to grow.

Have you achieved everything you wanted in your career so far? 

I’m not the sort of person who stands still on the escalator, I’m marching up huffing and puffing! I’m always hungry for more exposure, new learnings; good and bad. I hope there is a lot more to come!

How important is personal development to your success, and how do you approach it?

I seek it out, utilising those around me and I’m not scared to say I don’t know. Throwing myself into the unknown and learning as I go. Don’t be afraid to push yourself even when its uncomfortable!

How do you prioritise tasks when everything feels like a priority?

What will have the biggest impact? What are sales or people critical and/or enable our teams to have what they need to crack on and so they always know what their key focuses are. 

What was the hardest decision you have taken as a leader? 

Making the decision to put what was right for me first, even though I knew the impact on the team and my colleagues would be great. As a people led leader it doesn’t come naturally to think of myself, so it was a massive learning to find that line when I had to make such a tough decision. 

What steps do you take to measure your own performance?

I’m always thinking of the bigger picture, I know to turn a site round I’d give myself 3 months, a region 6 months and a company 12 to see true YOY improvements across the board and by teams that care. Rome wasn’t built in a day, is an oldy but a goodie!

What does success mean for you as a business leader?

I want to build teams and results that will last, Operations and success can be so fickle; minute by minute or day by day, as I’ve progressed up, I’ve adjusted from the gratification of a £20 tip, which I’d get a real buzz from, to knowing when to praise my teams and appreciate when we have done a good job. The higher you get, the greater the expectation for incredible results across all KPIs and you need to know when to self-praise you and your teams. 

What advice would you give to someone starting off their career as a future business leader?

Ensure you find those people who lift you up and share your values.

Push yourself but know when to be kind to yourself. 

And my personal mantra as a mother and business leader; Your best is good enough.


Date Published: 5th February 2024