Meet the MD: Brian Galbraith of Hickory

Meet the MD: Brian Galbraith of Hickory

Brian Galbraith co-founded Hickory in East Lothian four years ago. He spoke to BQ about his career so far, his plans for the future, and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I am Managing Director for Hickory, an award winning catering and events company based in East Lothian. I co-founded the business in 2012, leading a team of 45, and have enjoyed playing a pivotal role in the development of the business, supported by an executive board consisting of 3 female co-directors.  My responsibilities include the overall management of the senior teams, ensuring consistency and quality for our clients. I also support the businesses growth strategy, ensuring it’s strategically managed and that we take time to support the development of our businesses ecosystem in line with the growth.


What is it the company does?

The company has established itself in the hospitality and tourism market as a first choice of caterer with a reputation for delivering stylish events with creative food in inspirational venues.

Hickory combines a highly imaginative approach to food and drink with a firm commitment to sustainability and, wherever possible, only using the finest local Scottish produce. 

In October 2015, Hickory underwent a bold new rebrand, with the launch of a new website and a new philosophy to reflect what the business stands for: ‘contemporary catering for the connoisseur’. 

Recently, Hickory added a mobile and pop up bar offering to their brand, delivering a botanical gin bar at this year’s Royal Highland Show.  Hickory has also recently added the complimentary service of Hickory Hogs, a premium hog roast experience like no others. The talented team are always coming up with new ideas from the brand to evolve. In the next year, our main ambition is to win a dedicated contract for a major arts/heritage site.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I got my first ‘big break’ as a kitchen porter in Oban where I worked the summer season before starting my college course in Glasgow, studying Hospitality Management.

On finishing my diploma I took up a post with Swallow Hotels as a Trainee Manager and ended up staying with the hotel group for five years, working my way up the management ladder with my last post as Food and Beverage Manager taking me to Gateshead. I then moved from hotels into stadiums with my first experience as food and beverage manager for McAlpine Stadium, Huddersfield (now The John Smith’s Stadium). The opportunity came up for the opening of Hampden Stadium and I was delighted to take up the post of deputy GM as part of the Sodexo team.

Whilst working with Sodexo I was seconded to Ayr Racecourse and the Tall Ship in Glasgow giving me lots of experience in other large scale hospitality operations; it was during this time I watched The Glasgow Science Centre being built and had a passion and urge to be part of this fantastic new attraction. Le Bistro, at the time called Azure, was running the contract and I was lucky to be appointed into my first GM job in my late 20s.  After a few years at the Science Centre I was approached to head up Nairns Anywhere, which was Nick Nairns outside catering company in partnership with Compass group.  I was with them for seven years and we even won the Science Centre contract back!

I then had the opportunity to build my own event catering business and set out putting a team together, which has taken time, but I’m so proud of the team, the development of the brand and all what we have achieved in just a few years.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

To be a good leader you have to be able to let go.  You have to trust your team who might have different and heightened skills to your own, but that meet the needs of the business.  I also believe you also have to lead by example. I’m a firm believer in that I wouldn’t ask one of my team to do something that I wouldn’t do myself – and yes, that can involve sweeping the floor.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

As a high growth business that has increased staff numbers and sales by 50% per annum for the last two years, with a 25% growth projected for the next 3 years, it has been challenging to grow and nurture a team that can embrace change, embed new systems and processes yet still maintain and deliver the quality standards that we have built our brand on. It has taken time to build the team, but I’m so proud of each of them – the management team offer a different specialist skillset from marketing specialists to operational excellence but all share the same passion and drive, with the right amount of energy to deliver the business objectives and maintain the expected strategic growth levels whilst maintaining the quality.

In our business, it’s all about people and high service standards, which is one of the reasons we are taking the business through 1SO9001 as our commitment to quality.   

If you have the right people and the right systems, you have the foundations for a successful business.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Holidays, weekend breaks, reading, relaxing, spending time with family and friends, eating, drinking, trying new quirky wines from boutique vineyards across the globe, drinking whisky – I love a dram, my favourite is Scapa. I’m also a bit of a petrol head and enjoy taking the car for a spin, discovering new restaurants and interesting walks across Scotland.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up

When I was very young I wanted to be a train driver.  We didn’t have any trains growing up on the Island, so it was a bit deal when we went to the mainland. I was train obsessed my mother would say.


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

Lateness is my bugbear.  I’m pretty fortunate that my team know this and do their best to be on time.  I’ll always try to approach things informally, whether it’s giving feedback or mentioning lateness.  I’m fair and always give people the benefit of the doubt, after all, stuff happens - buses break down, trains get cancelled.  It’s a different story if its perpetual lateness, as it has an overall impact on the business and productivity, particularly if people are late for meetings which might impact six people across the business.


Where do you see the company in five years-time?

I’d like to see the business going from strength to strength as it is today, growing, evolving and diversifying, with the team coming up with new ideas such as they did with Hickory Bars and Hickory Hogs.

I’d also like to maintain our commitment to quality through ISO9001, quality management system and keep our gold credentials with Green Tourism business scheme.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Get to know your team. What’s their dog/children/partner called? How do they spend their spare time? What do they like/dislike?  Too many leaders and managers see those they lead as just cogs in the big wheel and don’t take the time to learn about them. If you’re engaged with your team, they’ll be engaged back.

Take risks and challenge yourself, although approach these risks with common sense, but don’t be afraid to at least consider something new and different.