Running a specialist hospitality technology provider for twenty years, Stuart McLean tells BQ how he’s learned to feel comfortable in his own skin…
What is it the company does?
Zonal has evolved into the UK's leading provider of fully integrated technology solutions to the hospitality sector, with its products used daily in over 9,000 venues ranging from restaurant, hotels and pub groups, to night clubs and garden centres.
Zonal was established over 37 years ago by hotelier Ralph McLean, who was looking for a solution to manage and control operations and he created the first EPoS (electronic point of sale) system to facilitate this level of control.
Still a family business today, Zonal has developed the solution to manage every aspect of a consumer’s interaction with a hospitality brand, including online reservations, loyalty, ordering a round from your phone and purchase to pay solutions.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I am responsible for the strategy and growth of the business. Being a service and technology driven company it’s vital to not be thinking of solutions just for today but for tomorrow and the future. Technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we live and do business, and being in the hospitality sector it’s vital that we understand both consumer habits and the operational business demands.
We create solutions that enhance the customer journey, optimise operations, and increase profitability in what is a highly competitive sector. With almost 500 employees, I have a huge responsibility to make sure that Zonal remains relevant and retains its position as the leading provider of technology solutions to the hospitality industry.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I have worked in the family business with my three brothers since Zonal’s inception in 1979 and have done almost every job in the company from Service Engineer, Trainer, Sales and Implementation building up to my appointment as Chief Executive in 1997. The last 20 years have been transformational for me and the company as we have grown, changed and evolved many times during this period.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
A great leader, I believe, is someone who has time for everyone, listens to everyone, is open and transparent with vision, drive and ambition and a fierce determination to retain and evolve the company culture so there are no barriers to success.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
The challenges have changed over the years. Initially it was about learning to feel comfortable in my own skin as CEO, and having to take over from my father who was not only the founder but also an inspirational leader. Today, the challenge is ensuring we have the right people, with the right attitude to continue the amazing success story that is Zonal.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
My family is very important to me and spending time with them gives a different kind of headache, but a good one. I also play quite a bit of sport and that clears your head like nothing else.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m sure I’m not unusual in wanting to play football for a living, just the slight problem of talent – or lack of it – got in the way.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Being late is my pet hate! Both me being late, which hopefully I rarely am, and people being late to meet me. Personally, I’d rather be 30 minutes early and spend that time preparing and waiting than being late.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Zonal is amazingly successful and continuing this trajectory for the next five years will be challenging but very rewarding. We have also just embarked on our international journey and will be aiming to make this adventure as exciting and fruitful as our UK one.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
It’s all about the people, as Jim Collins the author said, ‘Get the right people on the bus and have them seated in the right seats.’
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
If the people you work with don’t feel right and don’t fit into the culture of the business, don’t work with them. It’s too easy to let average people drift in a company.