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An Ocean of Ambition: An Interview with Seafood Restaurant Entrepreneur, Grace Harding

An Ocean of Ambition: An Interview with Seafood Restaurant Entrepreneur, Grace Harding

With over 3 decades of business experience, specialising in marketing, consultancy and people culture, Grace Harding has been the CEO of the South African seafood restaurant franchise, Ocean Basket since 2012, and is the ideal woman to speak at the bfa’s Empowering Women in Business (EWIB) conference. 

Under her leadership, the South African native has seen Ocean Basket expand to over 200 stores in more than 18 countries, and her vision is for Ocean Basket continue to crack new markets.

Her ambition, tenacious spirit and people-focused character will inspire the attendees of EWIB on the importance of collaboration, leadership development, and the changing culture of business. 

We speak to Grace on her thoughts on the current landscape of female entrepreneurship and what culture means to her.

As a female entrepreneur who has previously owned a consultancy business, what more can be done to encourage female business ownership? 

Women in business encourage others.  We are natural connectors and are happy to share.  Our years of ‘gathering’ is conducive to being collaborative and supportive.  Firstly women must take the leap.  If you have something of value and you deliver it well, there is no reason that someone would not pick you.  And – I do acknowledge that it is still a man’s world.  We need to get on with it.  Co-create, support, add value.  Focus on delivering, creating and stepping away from the sea of sameness.  Success will speak for itself.  Less time burning bras, more time burning the midnight oil (together).

Do you believe there are issues with confidence when it comes to women chasing roles that are male-dominated such as CEO and MD? And how can this be overcome?

I am not sure.  Cheryl Sandberg does quote some stats in her book (Lean In) which does

suggest that women through the years do believe that they don’t really deserve the same as a man.  We seem to have been conditioned this way for centuries.  The start of shifting this must be with the youth – from school going girls to young women in business.  Us ‘oldies’ must mentor, coach and create opportunities to see themselves differently.  

In your 30 years business experience, what has been your biggest challenge to rising the ranks?

My greatest challenge is to break down the ranks.  Without ranks, there is more room for collaboration, innovative thinking and spreading care and support broader.  The ‘ranks’ are some of the things that we need to break down and I do believe that it will be women who will lead this.  We have a lesser need to be “on top”.  What we want is to be relevant and make a mark – from the middle.

Do you believe it is important to empower yourself and others in a business environment?

You got to empower yourself full stop.  People who do not own their space, own their work, own their education will go no-where.  In the future companies will not invest millions in ‘training’ in such a general manner.  They will expect us to learn for ourselves, prove our worth and ability to find knowledge and apply it.  If we do not empower ourselves, who will?  Nobody is out there waiting with baited breath for a great female to emerge ready to deliver and drive a business.  

As CEO, what does good workplace culture mean to you?

Have you got one week? ha ha ha.  

The driver of culture must be the well-being and longevity of a brand/business.  How do we keep what we have alive for many years so that we can do good.  Without doing well, it is very difficult to do good.

To do well you need the brains and hearts of all your stakeholders – employees, consultants, auditing firms, suppliers, bankers, community members, press, precious customers and business partners.

We know that engaged people give more of themselves when they feel like they are appreciated, their work has meaning and they are ‘seen’.

A good workplace culture is one where everyone feels like they are getting bang for their buck – from the shareholders to the customers and employees.  Where everyone feels part of the brand.  Where people treat each other as equals and know exactly what they need to deliver to remain part of the company.  

There has been so much written on culture and there have been many great case studies – Zappos, Ritz Carlton, Toyota, Da Vita and many more.

I believe that the way we think about culture has to evolve.  The foundation of a great culture needs to be the belief that we have an equal status partnership with each other and starting from that premise we can build packages, structures, incentives etc.  that are bespoke to different needs and because of the breakdown of hierarchy, the air is free and people can fly – with a crystal clear flight plan, maps and emergency plans.

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