ESV Client Spotlight Series: 15 Minutes with Sam Phylactou, CEO, M&J Chickens
Tell us about your business?
M&J Chickens is a national supplier and approved exporter of poultry products, whether they be raw, fresh, frozen or fully-cooked and ready to eat. It’s a family-owned business founded in 1982 by Mina and Jenny Souris – hence the “M&J” in our name. We process 300 tonnes of fillet, or finished poultry product, every week. Australians love their chicken!
I came into the business about 21 years ago and am very much a part of the M&J family. At the time of joining my professional background had been in commercial and corporate banking, so food production - particularly the operational complexity of refrigerated or frozen goods - was another world to me.
How long have you worked with ESV and what do you value the most from the relationship?
Personally I have known Colin Samuel for well over 12 years. M&J has now been with ESV for more than five years and there are many qualities I like about them - including their size, that they are always easy to deal with and that the door is always open. I can go straight to Colin when needed and the entire team is great at getting back in touch in a timely manner.
I’d also say what sets ESV apart is their tendency to be truly involved in our business. Colin and his team come out to see what we do and how we do it. They know our story, understand our growth and help resolve the inevitable complications associated with an expanding business.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful in business?
Firstly, you need to be aspirational. Secondly, you need tenacity and a fire in the belly. You’ve got to want success and like building it. If you’re just in it for the money it will never work long-term. You must like what you do.
Lastly, you need a clear picture, a strategy and a long-term vision. It’s important to be able to think ‘big picture’ and ‘untapped potential’.
How do you define success?
Looking back over my career I would define success as bringing a team of people – and not just senior executives but middle management and all the staff - along with you for the journey. It’s important to have empathy and understanding, particularly in a family-owned business. Success to me is a close knit team who truly knows and understands one another and is committed to a common goal.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I’ve heard excellent speakers such as Ita Buttrose and Harold Mitchell - both at ESV events - and admire their success, tenacity and resilience. Yet I would say greatest inspiration is the selfless act of my parents migrating to Australia.
At the age of 42 they moved their entire lives from Cyprus to Sydney to give their kids an opportunity to better themselves through school and university. They both had to learn the language, the culture and completely start afresh. Mum took work as a seamstress and Dad, who had a qualified trade back in Greece, took work as a cleaner. And they did this because they aspired for something better for their family.
As a beneficiary of their sacrifice and hard work, nothing is more inspirational.
Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
Personally, I will continue to grow within the business. I’d like to work with the founders on establishing a board of directors to bring in additional expertise. I also see myself more involved in strategy and moving beyond the operational side of business.
For M&J Chickens, the company will cement itself as a national player and continue to grow its export market and breadth of product range. It’s highly likely we will also evaluate products other than poultry.
What advice would you give to others hoping to lead a business?
Be true to yourself and do it for the right reasons. Be passionate. There will be difficult situations but you will learn from them. Fix the problems and move on.
And never take things for granted. The Greek have a great word “hubris” that relates to pride and self-confidence. Be proud of your achievements but never stop working on the business. Think of your clients, their needs and provide value-driven transactions and you’ll never go wrong.