Nando’s SA chief people officer Lucia McMullan says their culture is their secret sauce

Lucia says their employer brand is, in some ways, not dissimilar from the company’s witty consumer brand.

“Two of the core principles that have been in the business since its inception are ’It’s the people that make the chicken’ and 'having fun whilst making money’, and these come across in everything we do,” says Lucia McMullan, chief people officer at Nando’s. 

Many South Africans aren't familiar with Nando’s as an employer brand and associate the company with its witty marketing strategy. For a long time now, Nando’s adverts on social media and television have provided a cheeky take on current affairs, tapping into public opinion. It’s an approach that has been extremely successful and, when asked whether the consumer’s perception of the brand is reflected internally through employees’ experience, Lucia says there are many similarities. 

“The people and marketing functions work closely together because we are an ‘inside out’ brand, meaning that who we are on the inside, shapes who we are on the outside. Our internal and external brand pillars work together to bring about a truly special and unique brand that is Nando’s.’’

When asked to describe the company culture, Lucia says, “It’s quite difficult to articulate, it’s something you feel and experience. At the heart of it, it is an expression of the values that we hold dear, courage, integrity, passion, family and pride.”

Entrepreneurial spirit 

“It’s a very particular type of person that thrives at Nando’s. So, when we bring people into the business, it’s more about the culture fit than it is about finding the skills, competencies and years of experience required to do the job. Our philosophy is to grow our people as we grow and help them realise their potential,” says Lucia.

A Nando’s employee is passionate, energetic, and committed to growth and development – both their own and that of the business. It is why there are many examples of people in senior positions in the business who started working in a restaurant. 

By way of example, Lucia refers to a Nandoca – what they term their employees – who started as a restaurant manager five years ago and today is one of the best GMs in the organisation, leading one of the most profitable regions. Lucia says this is one of many examples. 

Nando’s is not the kind of business where one can apply a best-practice model or draft a policy or procedure that everyone is just expected to adhere to. Of course, there are things that must be done to ensure consistency, compliance, and governance, but at the core of it all there is still an entrepreneurial spirit and they encourage innovative thinking in all parts of the business. 

“The type of person we look for has an entrepreneurial spirit that we nurture and try to harness. It is why we are very careful about the way we communicate with our Nandocas and our franchise partners. We never take a dictatorial approach where we expect people to do things a certain way.”

Building a world-class team

The people function at Nando’s has been built up over the past five years, winning an HR Team of the Year award in 2019. Lucia was brought in after spending nine years at Pick n Pay, where she left as the Senior HR Manager for Talent.

When she arrived at Nando’s in August 2016, she ensured that she surrounded herself with the best possible team, and took this as an opportunity to craft a function aligned to the Nando’s values, culture and way of doing business. This positioned the people function as a credible and strong business partner. Most of Lucia’s senior team members were developed into their roles and today are thriving, leading world-class departments and teams. 

“Once I had seen the environment and the culture, I understood that Nando’s is a very special place and we were never going to be a big corporate. We had to create something that leveraged the magic of the Nando’s ethos,” she says. 

Philosophy of growth  

Nando’s prides itself on being a place where young South Africans can grow, being a first-time employer for many youths in our country. Nando’s focuses on empowering people to be the best versions of themselves, both at work and in their personal lives. 

So, while the organisation strives to grow all their people, they also want to see them flourish regardless of whether that happens at Nando’s or elsewhere. 

“If an employee finds a better opportunity somewhere else, we are happy because we will have been an important part of that individual’s journey. There are only so many positions that became available for upward mobility within the organisation and we want people in our country to become resilient and thrive,” says Lucia. 

“Ultimately, one of the reasons I’ve stayed with Nando’s this long is that I’m part of a business that genuinely is about more than just making money and what a place to be, where you can make a contribution by adding value to people’s lives,” she concludes.