Warsi, 56, is the founder and CEO of S&A Foods which produces more than 1.5 million meals per week for customers in the United Kingdom and overseas from their facility in Derby. Known as the ‘Curry Queen’, Warsi built her food empire in the 1980s after noticing a gap in the market for great tasting, convenient ethnic food in the United Kingdom. She secured her first major contract to supply chilled and frozen dishes to Asda and Morrisons after winning a blind tasting test. Today, Asda remains as one of S&A biggest retail customers.
For her efforts, Warsi was awarded an honorary MBA by the University of Derby in 1997 as well as a MBE and CBE in the British Honours List. The business woman will be offering invaluable information on how to succeed in the corporate environment with a special emphasis being placed on women.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Delegation whilst staying in touch. There are three things I have learnt about the art of delegation:
- Delegation does not mean abdication of responsibility, for example every day I still receive a set of figures on business performance. Agree a communication process, a set of information that you require to keep your finger on the pulse.
- Having people you can trust who share your values and standards is essential.
- Good leaders develop leaders – accept that mistakes are part of the learning process. It’s like your toddler children, if you don’t let them walk due to fear that they will fall, then the child will never be able to walk without your help.
Going forward, the challenge is how to get hundreds of people to embrace change. The answer is in communication – communication is lubrication. If people know why we are making changes – what it means to them – they are more likely to embrace change.
What’s been your greatest achievement personally?
My biggest achievement is putting the quality right and raising the bar in the industry. Quality is the DNA of S&A Foods. The only reason I have been able to “walk the talk” is because my S&A family have embraced my passion and deliver consistent quality every day.
Also the fact that I have been able to provide opportunities to some of those women who have never worked and were totally dependent on their partners. I could see a spark in them and call them ‘uncut diamonds’, and was able to help, encourage and support them. One example is a lady who could only speak Punjabi – four months after we started working together she was supervising the production for me.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
I love what I do and do what I love. There are two reasons why I love what I do:
- Cooking is my hobby and I enjoy it
- I love being with and dealing with people
Put those two ingredients together and I would do it all over again.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Inspiration comes from two sources – action and reaction.
My inspiration goes back to my childhood. My parents were my heroes with their integrity and professionalism, and their teaching to “never be selfish”. I wanted to be like them.
It also came from seeing women who were helpless and dependent even though they were capable and clever. I wanted to be different and independent so that I could be of some help.
What does the future hold for you?
I am excited and confident about the future. I have a clear vision, quality culture, efficient manufacturing and a great team to take the business forward. We will be challenging dull and boring markets with our innovative ideas. We are looking to build partnerships with suppliers abroad and strengthen the relationship with our current suppliers. We have plans to grow our business in this country and in Europe.