20 years have passed since my fateful question to Robin one day: “Do you like oysters?” Little did he know, this one-liner comprised the interview to help me turn to reality a crazy vision of becoming London’s leading oyster specialist – and a total change of career for both of us. Thankfully, fatefully, Robin replied “Oysters? I bloody love oysters!”. Robin came up with the name “Wright Brothers” – a name already associated with world-famous and fearless pioneers - which further cemented our belief that this was meant to be. And the rest is history, as they say.
We took off, with no experience in oysters, wholesale, or restaurants, yet over 20 years, we built a company, a brand and a team which reached a milestone this month that only 1%-3% of companies ever reach. And that statistic was before you throw a global financial crisis, two recessions and a global pandemic into the mix.
So how did we succeed without any experience? What drives our success? A lot of you have heard this story before in one form or another, but this 20th Birthday edition of our Newsletter seemed like a good opportunity to go back to basics and share what I think are the secrets of our success over 20 years.
Success Factor #1 – A Passion for Great Seafood & Good Times
First and foremost, we were driven by a simple desire to share our passion (Great Seafood) and our philosophy about enjoying great seafood (Good Times).
“Great Seafood” for me, originated with the amazing seafood I grew up with in my mother’s fishing village of Newlyn in Cornwall, and later from my friend Jerome’s incredible oysters from the Marenne Oleron. And our “Good Times” philosophy was that you don’t need to be in a fancy white tablecloth restaurant necessarily to enjoy great seafood. My favourite seafood experiences were cracking and picking crab with my Mum, family and friends, overlooking the harbour in Cornwall; eating Jerome’s oysters on his boat at low-tide amongst his oyster beds; every year, we go on a family holiday on a campsite in Cornwall and we order Wright Brothers cooked lobster which we cover in garlic butter and eat with chips from the local chippie. These are Good Times - precious family moments squashed around makeshift tables, coming together around the same Great Seafood and lobster that they serve in Scotts and Gordon Ramsay. I am not sure there is a better combination in life.
Not many people were lucky enough to grow up in a fishing village, or know a French oyster farmer, so our mission was to spread our seafood gospel far and wide and bring these Great Seafood and Good Times to everyone - whether you are a Michelin star chef, whether you are celebrating a special occasion in one of our restaurants or cooking a crab curry for your friends and family at home.
Success Factor #2 - The Wright Way
Robin and I never set out with a specific code of conduct or set of values and behaviours to lead us to success – it just kind of happened. Occasionally, we have looked back and tried to identify what those key behaviours and habits were and codify them into what we call “the Wright Way”. I have done this exercise a few times, and whilst you can change the headings, inevitably we come back to the same commitments and behaviours every time. You never know, some of these may serve you well in having a successful life and career – like they have for Robin and me.
Success Factor #3 - Brotherhood and Sisterhood: A Passion for People
Having started the business literally on our own, the most remarkable journey is not what we have built physically – vans, restaurants, depots, freezers, offices - it is the team of diverse people with diverse skillsets, that we call the Brother and Sisterhood.
There are countless wonderful people who have worked at WB, and they have all been instrumental in getting us to where we are today. Whether it is big stuff like creating new depots and building oyster farms, or the crucial daily front-line tasks of delivering excellence, every delivery, every shift or service, every box, every newsletter, every statement, every cleaning and closing process. I hope you all take time occasionally to look around you and feel “I am part of this; I made this happen”.
The most important lesson of these 20 years, if I had to pick one, is to have the best people. I was incredibly lucky when Robin accepted the challenge 20 years ago, that I was going into a partnership with someone as capable, determined, kind, patient, supportive, reliable, honest – not to mention an absolutely first-class entrepreneur and operator. In short, someone who shared and typified our common values, who lived and breathed them, and stood alongside me, shoulder to shoulder, steadfast, through the good days and the bad. I have many shortcomings, and Robin patiently puts up with all of them and thankfully has an abundance of ability and skills to plug the gaps I leave behind. None of what we have today would have been possible without Robin, and I am eternally grateful.
20 years on, it still feels like we are just getting started.
There still seems so much to do, so much opportunity, so much to improve – I am looking forward to the next 20 years as much, if not more than the last 20. Repeat!
But my biggest sense of excitement at this 20-year waypoint is seeing a new generation of leaders, managers and employees coming through the business - people with more experience and better skillsets than we ever had.
Robin and I are no longer on the frontline as we used to be. It is exciting to give others the opportunity to take Wright Brothers to these new heights and destinations, to make us famous not just around London and Brixham but throughout the UK, and maybe even abroad one day. We will forever have that underdog mentality, but we can be a global underdog one day. The challenge is on.
We will soon embark on exercises with the teams – it is time for you to create your own values, your own “Wright Way”, to set your own goals and ambitions for Wright Brother’s future.
Anyway, after a few thousand more words than I intended to write for this newsletter, I leave you with the words of someone else, who sums it all up so much better than I ever could. I wondered if it was appropriate to share this letter with everyone, because it felt so deeply personal in some ways, then I realised that he had in fact addressed it to all of you anyway. It is to you, to all of us.
It is from Khaled el Ghawi, our Egyptian factory cleaner at Billingsgate Market, who had to leave Wright Brothers unexpectedly only days after the photo of us together was taken – just a few weeks ago.
If there was a fire and I could take one memento of our achievement over 20 years from the burning building, I think it would be this letter – raw, unedited, from the heart. I have read it so many times.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.