Even though putting this interview between Clive Schlee and Mario Bauer on here, I am indirectly making advertisement for Pret, and Clive Schlee and Pret like to peek here once in a while, but I want to do a reality check on this conversation from 02.07.2019.
He and Pret have announced on Monday 01.07.2019 (after I tweeted to the press and the press “broke” the news) his “retirement”, but remaining as a non-executive Director.
I find this interesting in many ways. First, when JAB took over Pret they reshuffled the top team pretty quick, including axing co-founder (or “re-founder”) of Pret Sinclair Beecham and HR Director Andrea Wareham.
Quote: “Filings show that CFO Mr Jones, former chairman Larry Billett, HR director Andrea Wareham, co-founder Sinclair Beecham and US president Joanne Brett had all been terminated as directors from parent company PAM Group Limited.” – Daily Mail
Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham re-founded Pret again in 1986 after a short run of the original Pret which was founded in 1983 by Jeffery Hyman. Funny enough, up until the two customer deaths became public, the Wikipedia entry on Pret never showed this info regarding the 1983 start. Julian Metcalfe is also founder of Asian style fast-food chain itsu and “Metcalfe’s Food Company, in partnership with Clive Schlee.” – Wikipedia
So, JAB axing Sinclair Beecham, yet keeping Clive Schlee on board is interesting. For one, I’m sure it is to “safe face” and not let Schlee look defeated, after the poor re-action on the terrible and unnecessary deaths that happened. But also, knowing how Schlee works, he is the perfect “mascot” for Pret. I always experienced him more like the Ronald McDonald of Pret A Manger, who’s job it is with an endless smile and friendly approachable front, to keep the workforce happy slaving on low wages and the public happy with colourful, fancy food and freebies.
Pano Christou, who came from McDonald’s as a Manager having started in Pret straight away as an Assistant Manager, has a more serious approach to things. He at least blocked me and now deleted his Twitter account. He will be dealing with issues more directly and swifter, but he will do the same business of a profit-driven company.
And that’s where Schlee now will continue his “clown” role, to not only represent Pret as this oh so happy and friendly brand, but to redeem himself with more and more charitable work. This can be seen in the below interview that I’ll be taking apart like a Pret A Manger “line check”, picking ingredients apart, weighing out each item for its “correctness” and if it’s up to standard (truth).
THE INTERVIEW (my comments below)
From Teddy Talks interview by Mario Bauer
Upfront, I doubt Clive Schlee will have a TED Talk anytime soon, but for a Teddy Talks it’s insightful enough.
Key points and my comments on just the things important to mention, not the whole interview. As Mario Bauer’s first language is not English, I will leave grammatical issues, or mistakes in general, in the transcript. I prefer to leave people’s sentences the way they are when I quote them, out of respect and to keep it in their own words like I do with all the staff reviews I collected.
Mario Bauer: at 2:44
“For me the most fascinating thing about Pret is the People Culture. Because what you built over the years, when I talk to Head Hunters, they say you don’t even need to call somebody on Senior level or OPs Manager level, to kind of steal them from Pret. You cannot steal people from Pret, there’s a very high loyalty to you, to your management, to the brand. How do you build that loyalty, how Pret became the people company. Because at the end of the day it’s a sandwich store, how do you make it a people company?”
Clive Schlee: at 3:16
“I think at the very early days, Julian and Sinclair recognized that to get people to get up so early in the morning, and work and make sandwiches in difficult conditions, something had to be special. And they inherently sensed that giving people a future, and giving them friendship and making a sense of family, was going to be very attractive and much more important than money. Money had to be good, but those three F’s: future, friendships and family, that was the beginning of Pret’s culture, which I hope stayed throughout, I always tried to encourage those three.
As a result of that, people get very loyal to Pret, and as you say, it’s difficult to head hunt them away, which we like that very much.”
My comments as Clive Schlee’s patronizing and disrespectful labelling as: “Late Night Girl”
First of all, Mario Bauer asked this question regarding senior people and OPs managers who are difficult to head hunt away from Pret. The reason why they are so difficult to steal away is the immense amount of money senior leaders earn! On top of all the nick-knacks, they fly out to Dubai or if in the U.S. to Las Vegas, throw parties, even sit in pubs during lunch time, while the shop staff slave away and are pressured to work harder for profit and managers’ bonuses! But Mr. Schlee here talks about the shop people as he remains desperate for workers!
On a shop staff level, many people leave easily. I know several colleagues, especially leaders, who left Pret and went to EAT, the competition that is now purchased by JAB via Pret. EAT was set up very similarly and is always seen as the closest imitation of Pret. Andrew Walker, EAT’s CEO used to be Pret’s UK Managing Director before he left Pret, a role which was then taken by Pano Christou. Pano became COO of Pret when JAB took over. There was no COO role in Pret before JAB. Much of EAT’s production did come from large factories, and when they ran out of products in the afternoon, there wasn’t a high pressure to keep making sandwiches. Staff were paid less, but the work was easier, according to those that went there and told me later.
Secondly, I appreciate that Mr. Schlee acknowledges that making sandwiches in Pret is done in “difficult conditions”. Thank you for that acknowledgement!
Thirdly, the three FF’s. Uh-oh, where do I start!? This one I keep brief as the friendship and “family” culture will entangle itself as you read on! I can only say that Pret has either a big fat lying facade when it comes to the “family” environment, or Pret is a very dysfunctional family! But to me I experienced the first to be the case. Only one of many staff reviews along those lines:
MB: at 3:58
“You have an internal promotional system, university…”
PAUSE: If I understood that he said “university”, I think he means the Pret Academy where staff are trained. Pret doesn’t have a university! Let’s not fly too high here! In the UK, and especially In Pret, there is a lot of psychology used and slogans to sound sophisticated. The Pret Academy is just a place near HQ where leaders are trained. But the results of this “training” can be seen in the appalling way many Managers behave on the day-to-day running of the shops. Not to mention that one of the Trainers is a Development Manager who was used to gaslight me. I share this extensively in my interview at the bottom of this page in the audio-player.
“You have an internal promotional system, university … there’s a lot of people I met over the years … and you always hear the stories ‘I started as a cashier, I worked myself up to a district manager’ (OPs). What’s the structure / system behind it?”
CS: at 4:18
“There’s a very disciplined system behind our academy. And every step, there’s an increased pay-rate and a series of quiz. And you climb up and up and up. There are many chances to climb and that’s very important to Pret. And then we give the lessons and the practical experience so that people can move from being a Team Member Trainer to be a Team Leader to be Assistant Manager …”
Sounds wonderful on paper, but reality is far, far from this! Maybe this was like this before the mid 2000s. But I have not been trained properly and most of my colleagues neither. Only if you were willing to make friends with management were you moved up quickly and somewhat trained. The countless staff reviews in the below slideshow indicate this problem as well.
Yes, there is a strict hierarchy and a complex system where people are micromanaged with small details that burn them out! The really important things they are not trained in: people skills, leadership skills, SKILLS in general!! Pret loves to recruit according to people’s “personality” rather than skill to portray this “happy family” business to the outside. So, you have a lot of happy bunnies bouncing around, burdening down workers who are the ones getting the job done, under intense pressure and low wages while the bunnies claim the credit for it!
Also, the internal promotion system Pret boasts about has always puzzled me! When I started in Pret I was “head hunted” by a former Caffe Nero Manager who got me into his shop. I have worked in several companies where staff were ALWAYS promoted from within! Schlee here says that it must be a world record that in Pret 40% are promoted from within! Sorry?
But what is the saddest thing about the promotion system in Pret is that with some Managers it is an open secret that they got into their position because they became a little “too close” to their boss or even a senior leader from HQ! Their career was paved in the bedroom. This is really sad, because you expect this in a law firm, in Hollywood and certainly in politics, but a sandwich chain? It’s ridiculous and staff often had no respect for management like this behind their backs.
Again, one of many reviews also on this. A recent one from NY:
And a very poignant review by a former General Manager, London.
Quote: “”As much as they “Like to promote internally” you are still just a pawn for them.”
Head Office Review:
So, Pret makes such a big deal again out of something, selling ice cubes to Eskimos! The same is true with the free food allowance for staff. EVERY restaurant or cafe business gives free lunch and coffee allowance! Yet, Pret makes it sound like they are the only ones doing this! Sure, the 50% rebate for staff when purchasing items outside of work is very generous, hands down. Many companies either give 10% or like Caffe Nero, we had to pay full price when buying in our private time, which is really unacceptable, to be honest. Same with Iceland. I stood in line behind an Iceland staff member who bought a can of coke for his break, and he paid full price! I asked him about it and they confirmed that they are paying full price. So, Pret is very generous on this front.
MB: at 4:52
“So, basically I know when I do a good job and when I follow the plan, you already set out in two years I’ll be in that position, I’ll make that-and-that money, so people can plan with that.”
CS: at 5:00
“They can see a chart showing them how to climb up.”
That’s true, there is a chart, in fact it’s a silly chart with colourful little cartoons on it, like in Kindergarten, showing how to climb the “ladder”. And that’s about it! How people REALLY climb the ladder often is not like Mario Bauer says, by “doing a good job” and follow some “plan”. No, it’s again by making friends with management, including doing all the dodgy things and short cuts many managers stop doing once they move into management. Because the higher you climb, the more you have to lose. So, they pass all the dirty work down to the Team Leaders. And if the Leaders get caught, they are easier and cheaper to replace. Simple.
It’s like wanting to join a gang, you have to prove yourself, not by doing the right and honourable thing, but by doing some scary dare to prove they are the same as the gang and mean business going all the way, whatever it takes! Many managers in Pret are very insecure, immature, often not trained properly, fluster about when the heat is on. And the worst thing that I find even “incurable” is, many are lazy! I have learned in my many years of work in different companies, that a lot of attitude can be changed and re-trained, but laziness isn’t one of them!
So, when someone comes along who has skill, they will be burdened down with all the hard work that management takes credit AND big bonus for. And if the hard worker has integrity, they will never ever be able to join the “gang”, as they are like a mirror to managers who don’t like secure people with skill reflecting their shortcomings. I’ve seen too many good people leave Pret or even worse, go backwards from a Team Leader back to a Barista or even an Assistant Manager went all the way back to being Team Member. I’ve never seen employees in ANY company I’ve worked before go backwards! They either climb up, stay at the position, or leave the company.
I had this thought many times in my Pret struggle, but going backwards was never an option for me. It was either: go up, stay put, or go out. But you never go backwards within the company. It might be one of my crazy ticks. But that’s how I always felt.
In 5:04 the question of how many people work for Pret, the CEO answers with over 13.000 in all the different countries. When the £1000 announcement was made a year ago, which I write about the timing of it in connection to my blog. Also, after tax the £1000 really was about £800.
Clive Schlee gives some appreciation to all the foreign workers in 5:18 which I think does need to be mentioned to be fair. He says that Pret would not be where they are without all the foreign workers. This raises the question again on why there are so few British workers. And Pret is reaching out now into all sorts of avenues to recruit especially young Birtish workers (cheaper workers under 21, indoctrinating them early, the investment is for longer and young folk are oblivious of their rights). But I appreciate that he acknowledges that without all the foreign workers Pret would not be where it is today! But words are cheap! Paying them the Living Wage and treating them with respect would make his appreciation more believable.
Mario Bauer’s questions about the “Rising Stars” program at 5:37
CS: at 5:56
“Pret has been involved with helping the homeles since the very early days, when we first made sandwiches in the mornings, I think Julian and Sinclair recognized they could never ever keep the sandwiches over night. So, we gave the sandwiches to the homeless. … From the day we made the sandwiches in the morning, within a couple of years of Pret starting.
So we always were generous to homeless people with food. But there’s another thing that matters to homeless people a lot, which is, what they most need is a job. Simply giving them food is not enough. So, we started to work out how we could give them a job and eventually we have developed a program which is one of the successful in the world …”
PAUSE: Did he claim to have one of the most successful project in the world of giving former homeless people a job??
CS: “… giving people who’ve been homeless, we get them recommended to us by hostels and organizations, and ex-offenders. And they come and work in Pret for 12 weeks. We give them a Zone 1 Underground pass. And we make sure they get up and we give them a buddy, and we really train them with care. And they can get careers in Pret…”
Sounds all very good and commendable. But this one really bugs me because of the marketing and labelling people in a patronizing way “Rising Stars”. If I was a former homeless person, this would really not sit well with me. First of all, it is really great when he takes former homeless people to his Austrian property or to other places, giving them jobs, and now accommodation etc. And maybe he gives them access to his world to give them an appetite of how to drive for more profit in the hopes to become rich. But nevertheless, it is commendable. Beautiful! Yet, in comparison to how regular staff are treated, it is disheartening to say the least on how he uses them for PR!
In the PRet CEO blog about the “Rising Stars” former homeless employment program, Schlee shares how the idea came up for these “Rising Stars” to solely work together in a Pret shop. From the manager to the kitchen sandwich makers, having all former homeless people work in one shop.
CEO Quote (I added the colour to highlight something where he’s indirectly giving himself away):
“Our shop idea lost momentum when we returned home. People pointed out that we didn’t have enough Rising Stars at a management level to actually run the shop. Others felt we might be leaving them too exposed, as we are usually careful to integrate Rising Stars into our shop teams.”
And on the 450 “Rising Stars” since the 10 years of the Pret Foundation Trust, working with former homeless people, some people finally probe deeper, also on Facebook and are just not buying it:
“Careful to integrate”?
Might be leaving them “too exposed”?
Too exposed for what?
Clive Schlee giving himself away again. The same CEO who takes former homeless people to his Austrian PRoperty for a hike in the beautiful countryside, is the same CEO who has a highly stressful workplace with bullying managers who are drilled for targets and profit, repaying the investors since private equity took over.
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Slideshow can be paused
This part really bugs me now:
MB at 7:20 asking where the “Rising Stars” live when they start working in Pret, if they still live on the streets.
CS: at 7:23
“No, no, no, we normally get recommended. We have to choose the ‘Rising Stars’ very carefully, because they look like all the other Team Members. It’s important they blend in with the other team Members. They get selected by homeless organizations who say ‘that person has the capacity to work in Pret’ and they put them forward to us.”
LNG: This is a tricky one because on one hand I can understand that Pret wants people to “blend in” and “be like” all the others. But this uniformity shows how discriminating Pret really is. If this company truly is free of discrimination, free of judgment towards a diversity of people, why have a “chosen few” system? A “regular” homeless person has NO chance to be “selected” to be of the “special few”.
And Pret treats former homeless people with special care. Again, this is good, but it is also damaging for the regular staff who are pushed, pressured and bullied to perform in high pace for profit. This makes regular staff mentally ill, depressed, not to mention even suicidal. THIS is why I write so blunt and loud, because my own story (interview at the bottom audio player) had me almost killed in what Pret under Clive Schlee’s leadership has put me through! I could be dead now or on the streets myself.
Former Assistant Manager was unfairly dismissed and had to sleep in his car, having lost everything:
This happened to him, my story with Pret and many many others who were treated like sh*t and God knows how many landed on the streets, became depressed and even died by suicide!
I call them and us the “Fallen Stars” of Pret A Manger that Clive Schlee burdened like donkeys for profit!
That is why I don’t buy his “Rising Stars” scheme! I even believe that he really thinks he is doing good! I often see Mr. Schlee as living in La La Land, somewhere in a bubble where he actually really believes he’s doing so much good! Now 480 “Rising Stars” in 10 years vs. 13.000 current staff that struggle! Hello?
Link “Depression. Anxiety. Dread to go to work“
Link “If you want to know what Depression is work at Pret A Manger is the best place for that…Toxic environment”
»This job can annihilate every piece of humanity inside of you.«
»You will loose everything that makes you human.«
And these above reviews, among all the many other reviews, answer the question on why Pret is “careful to integrate” former homeless people into regular shops, not wanting to leave them “too exposed”. It would hurt Pret’s marketing and image to bully them the same way like they bully regular staff who then break and fall into the same problems some of the “Rising Stars” came out of! This is beyond hypocrisy, this is what the above former HQ IT Analyst wrote about Pret using people for PR.
I was bullied after 7 years in Pret when I became bereaved and continued for another 3 years in hell in a complete fog, emotional war-zone and confusion!
The conversation goes on about food waste, which is also not always done and I cover this in “Pret Food Waste” or about products and food development, Veggie Pret etc. Further in the interview Mario Bauer asks at 15:37 that the London landscape has changed with a Pret on almost every corner, and how the company will stay relevant with a shop on every corner. Schlee hesitates a little bit here, but answers by saying that the staff are Pret’s number one job as they are the ones that have the biggest impact and how Pret works to make things easy for them (uhm!) etc. He goes on about the food, communication on the packaging to customers (well, he doesn’t mean allergen labelling by the way!). Lastly, he talks about how the corner is “king” and when he gives advise to businesses he tells them to open on corners and that he would call Pret a “corner company”. Sounds all very lovely.
What he doesn’t tell us is, what this Times article does in: “Pret was the best thing since sliced bread but private equity ruined it“, quote:
»Veteran private equity investor: “We buy a business, work out how many restaurants you can get away with in an area until it’s become saturated, then try to convince a new buyer that there is plenty more runway”.«
And JAB took over from Bridgepoint and now concentrates on the USA and other European cities, especially airports and train stations to “spread” the brand faster throughout the world! London’s landscape has indeed changed, but not for the better. It is cluttered with Prets that even long-time fans get tired of it, including above journalist Sathnam Sanghera. So, JAB expands out! And Mario Bauer touches on this when he says that “you own the high street and then you grow…”
I fast forward in this interview to what is important to me as a former long-time employee having suffered in Pret almost to the point of suicide. All the business bla-bla isn’t my concern here but staff issues. They briefly touch on the customers who died and again, Clive Schlee is talking too much about how it was for HIM instead of how he has failed to re-act on warnings, not to mention putting in “meaningful change” IMMEDIATELY when the deaths occurred rather than waiting until it became public years later.
I especially want to skip the private equity part when Bridgepoint came in and when the “squeeze” really started on workers. I don’t want to waste my time on this part of the greed of those business ventures, except to say that their definition of success is that Bridgepoint, and now JAB, bring in great riches. But it is for the top leadership on the backs of low-wage workers. Schlee says in the interview how staff turn-over has decreased. But how can this be, that while Pret is growing, the numbers of staff since 2016 has decreased and the chronic under-staffing, that employees as well as customers complain about on Twitter and other sites, not to mention my experience.
Speaking about “chronically” under-staffing, I speak a lot about this and may have started this term of “chronic” under-staffing. And it gives me hope to know that staff read my blog and Tweets. I know this from the feedback I get in emails and also just found today a brand new review on Glassdoor which sounds like I have written it, LOL!! But someone must have read my words and on reviews sites you cannot leave more than 1 review or vote more than once. I am happy to inspire staff to find words to their Pret experience!
Back to the private equity issue, the few pennies Pret pays more or the few perks they give does not cover the pain and double work people go through. One poignant review by a former GM on a blog comment in 2012 about how Bridgepoint’s 2008 entrance has hurt Pret:
2012 on Blogspot
Another from a GM along those lines:
Assistant Manager from NY 2017:
… and so on …
From an old US Pret site
That’s true, there’s no big sandwich-making machine and no big sandwich factory. There are many small, little sandwich-making human machines, working in small and cramped kitchens. The human machines are pushed and pressured to assemble items fast in factory-style conditions of fear management, loud and fast music to beat the drum of the work-pace under the facade of “fun”!
The interviewer now asks the CEO about his management style at 31:37, and Schlee answers that one has to be a happy and positive person. He goes on to give an example about the boss of Barclay’s and how he walks his dog every morning. His dog wags his tale and when a dog wags his tale, the other dogs wag their tales. Schlee teaches this to the managers he says, but again, how can a manager, or any staff at that be truly happy under such excrutiating stress on a daily basis! My only thought is that he is doing emotional labour and wants his staff to do the same, while in reality there is a lot of depression, alcoholism and anxiety. And I mean it when I say that I hope Clive Schlee himself is not suffering depression while performing a fake happiness, as this will catch up on even the most positive person in time.
I do understand that what happened with the deaths, as well as staff deaths and my situation including my blog, must be very hard on him. But the times of feeling empathy for a multi-millionaire who has access to any help, resource and support he can get, is over. He is a leader who has been entrusted with thousands of PEOPLE! It is his decision what he does with that responsibility. It is actually heartbreaking to watch him explain how if managers can wag their tale and be happy during the stressful times, because he knows my blog and by now has read all the reviews of people who are broken! So, I do hope Clive is okay, but at the same time I hope as well that he wakes up to his responsibility of the thousands of people he is over.
And I say again here what I said on Twitter, and the reason I say this so blunt is because of the tone in Pret shops. The way hard workers are spoken to, shouted at, discriminated etc. My own story that I survived and still don’t know how I did. One manager after I came out of a shop where I was openly bullied during the worst time in traumatic grief, and my new manager said to me alone in the office away from witnesses when I was completely out of my mind in trauma and grief; he said to me in a quiet tone when I was distraught and questioned his motive (he didn’t pay me for Christmas Eve!), he said: “I don’t want the area to feel sorry for me anymore”, meaning the other managers in the area felt sorry for him because I was thrust into his shop by HR! I write about this in “Discrimination: Mental vs. Physical“. I cannot describe the shock and humiliation I went through again and again and again and again…
And I say this again here like I said on Twitter, that I do respect Clive Schlee as a human being, but not as a leader. I have no respect for his leadership whatsoever and even feel extremely ashamed to have been fooled for so long about him when I worked in Pret!
The end of the interview is to me the most important part I want to cover on the reality versus the facade or delusion. At 38:10 I want to quote again. But before I quote, it’s funny how he says that having been in Pret a long time, and that “you have to be careful not to stay too long at these places” … at “these places”? 😉 Being so infaturated with Pret, I am sure it wasn’t quiet his choice to step down after all that happened!
CS: “As I now turned 60, I’m beginning to”
PAUSE: Beginning to? … and then he quickly changes direction!
CS: “I think there are two kinds of virtues:
your resume virtues when you’re accumulating and opening shops and increasing gross profit. And then there is your eulogy virtues, which is how people really look at you as a person. And unfortunately they won’t remember the fact that … [a company has made profit]…
They will remember how you handled things”
PAUSE: HOW you handle things!
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse mum on her shock that Pret did NOTHING even after Natasha died! >>> YouTube
“A young person died from eating one of their products, and the fact that they did nothing and just let things carry on exactly as they had before, is beyond believe actually!”
– Tanya Ednan-Laperouse
Also, Pret was sued in New York in 2016 already after a customer went into anaphylactic shock from Sesame in an unlabelled wrap! >>> Article. So, this wasn’t a first incidence of sesame.
CS: “How you treated people”
PAUSE: HOW you treated people!
CS: “So I’m kind of moving in that direction now.”
So, he steps down, but remains as a non-executive Director. Pano Christou will take over and continue to drive the Pret machine hard for profit! Clive Schlee will concentrate on repairing his reputation as this lovely, happy CEO, ignoring all the pain and suffering that is still going on under his leadership! I still believe he needs to be taken to court on all these issues.
Clive Schlee says all the right things, but reality is very, very different, and I still cannot come to the conclusion if he is just very diluted or an ice cold business man. Or both! But one thing I am certain is, that his friendly, approachable demeanor does not fool me anymore after what I have suffered and witnessed for years.
The legacy of a private equity owned company:
Glassdoor July 2019 figures
LINK: >>> Long list of staff complaints.
May 2019: TWO Pret Staff have died
>>> Link to Article
I worked at Pret A Manger for almost 10 years and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather starve and speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote an article in the Scottish Left Review.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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