Twelve Questions: Stuart Deeks

Entrepreneur Stuart Deeks, 47, and his brother Lewis brought the Esquires coffee shop franchise to New Zealand in 2002, beginning with a single shop. They are now the master franchisors for more than 80 stores around the world.

Stuart Deeks is still hurting over selling his NZ business. Photo / Greg Bowker
Stuart Deeks is still hurting over selling his NZ business. Photo / Greg Bowker

1. Your company has just bought the Canadian Esquires rights from the founders, but you no longer own the New Zealand and Australian business. Does that hurt?

Yeah, it's gutting. I sold it because I got divorced and had to pay my ex-wife a sum of money and I didn't have enough. We sold it for $11.6 million and were pleased with the arrangement we reached (with ASX-listed Retail Food Group) but you learn your lessons. It's hard when your brother is your partner and he had to sell as well. It wasn't good. We'd spent eight or nine years building it up from one store but stuff happens and the whole thing was sad. It was sad getting divorced. Sad having to sell. Yes, it was my worst moment in business. We're a New Zealand company and we control Esquires in all the other markets in the world except in NZ and Australia.

2. Did anything good come out of that time?

Well, I got married again which was really good. Now I've got a beautiful little boy and a happy marriage. It was the sort of thing where we could have just given up on the business.

We were left with the international side which was small at the time. We had maybe 20 stores in the UAE, London and other places and that business wasn't big enough and wasn't even profitable. We didn't have enough stores to pay the costs of managing it. It was "do we keep going or just sell it and let the stores report back to Canada?" The best thing was we decided not to stop but to consolidate and grow the business aggressively.

3. Did you know anything about coffee or franchises when you first bought into it?

Nothing. I'd read a Metro magazine when I was living in London that had the founder of Sierra coffee shops on the cover, talking about how much money was to be made in coffee. There weren't many chains then, just Robert Harris and Starbucks. I went into Starbucks in Parnell once to do a bit of research and asked to speak to the manager. I asked him "how do I buy a Starbucks?" I didn't have a clue. The guy was so rude to me. He said, "You're joking. This is Restaurant Brands. If you want to buy Starbucks go and buy some shares." That Parnell store isn't there any more.

4. Why did you want to start your own business at all?

I'd been in corporates, in sales roles, for my whole life. I was 33 years old and I was sick of making money for other people and not getting thanks for it, and sometimes not getting paid. We put our life savings into those first shops and no one would loan us any money.

5. Where does your tolerance for risk-taking come from, do you think?

I'm adopted. All of the three kids in my family are adopted from different families. And my parents moved to the other side of the world from England when I was 6. They had three adopted kids aged 2, 4 and 6 and they moved half way around the world. They taught me to take a risk for a better life.

6. What did your parents do?

My dad was a chair in management studies at Auckland University and mum was a teacher and a deputy head principal. But I didn't go to uni. I'm not good with detail. And at 16 I just wanted money, a car. I wanted a Datsun 180B. My thing was I could always persuade people to do stuff. I could see a deal.

7. You're a big fan of American life coach Tony Robbins yet many people scoff at him. What do you get out of his courses?

I love Tony Robbins. I started really with Canadian motivational speaker Brian Tracy. I found him when I was 19 and it changed my life. I was working at the Post Office, earning $7646 per annum and I'd go to work every day in a Garfield T-Shirt and my Nomads from school. One of the girls from work was going to a Brian Tracy course and it cost like $2000 or something for the weekend. I went with her.

8. How did that change your life?

I learned all about goal-setting and how you can have whatever you choose in life. I went straight out, got a haircut, spent all my money on new clothes, then came back to work two days later in a suit. A few weeks later I had a good new job as a sales rep, I got promoted and doubled my salary and got a job at night as a bouncer at Brandy's nightclub. I was having an amazing life. And then I moved to Bahrain for work which was just fantastic.

9. Why do you think people are so critical of motivational courses?

People are scathing of things they don't understand. Anyone who's done it doesn't knock it. It's all about creating and giving back. You learn that whatever you give, you get back. If I think things are a mess, they're a mess. If I think I can do it, I can. I learned never to give up. And to take people along with you for the ride.

10. Running franchises around the world must mean a lot of travel. Has that been hard on your family?

I love travelling. I'm a travelaholic. I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, but I'm colour blind. I've still got the sugar sachets from the first flight back to England we did when I was 10. Tomorrow I'm off to England, then Latvia, Romania and Lithuania where there are new opportunities for new stores, then Beijing and Indonesia.

11. What is the best, and worst, of New Zealand, in your opinion?

There're no bad bits about New Zealand. All the travel I do just makes me very grateful. Try going to Yemen, or Pakistan or China where you can't see the buildings in front of you. The other day I left London where it was smoggy, went to Deli where I could taste the air, then Nanjing and Seoul where I couldn't see. Hong Kong was smoggy on the stopover, then you land in New Zealand and breathe in the air. Wow.

12. Are we ambitious enough, do you think?

Of course not. It comes from an insecurity, I think, that we're not good enough. We slave our guts out and work really hard to create this OK-size business in New Zealand. And we're too scared to take it further. I see people opening an office in Wellington and I think what about New York? What we've found is when you take what you've created here, that is good enough to survive here, then it's exceptionally good to someone overseas.

- NZ Herald

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