Subway boss delivers fresh business perspectives

Mar 20, 2013
Margot Micallef, founder and president of investment firm Oliver Capital Partners being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

Margot Micallef, founder and president of investment firm Oliver Capital Partners being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

The spring series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives” continued as Margot Micallef, founder and president of investment firm Oliver Capital Partners, answered CKNW host Bill Good’s questions on business and leadership in front of a live audience at the Segal Graduate School.

The event was part of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business insights from some of Canada’s top executives to SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus.

After an introduction which listed just a few of the highlights from Micallef’s impressive résumé, including overseeing the recent opening of Subway restaurant’s 400th location in BC, Good remarked that when he first read her bio he thought to himself that there was no way this was just one person, as her accomplishments were too numerous.

Good then opened the interview in his usual style, enquiring about the first job Micallef ever had. She recalled that she began baby sitting at the age of thirteen as a way of contributing to her family. “My family immigrated from Europe and brought with them the immigrant work ethic,” she said. “To this day I don’t know how not to work hard.”

Micallef revealed that her entrepreneurial spirit first appeared when she and her sister started a business manufacturing and selling crocheted bathing suits. She admitted, however, that despite the business being reasonably profitable, their quality control was not of a high standard.

She studied psychology at Simon Fraser University, after deciding on her career path at a young age. Having always wanted to help people, Micallef spent a year working with emotionally disturbed children after graduation, but soon decided that it was not the right career for her, a realization she described as, “devastating”.

After soliciting some advice from her mother, Micallef decided to enter law school, and after graduation was hired by Shaw Communications as their general counsel. As the first lawyer the company had ever hired, she was responsible for developing the legal department. She recalled how she began to drift away from law to work more in mergers and acquisitions, with the company involved in over $15 billion worth of transactions during her time there.

She then described how her career began to move towards investments after leaving Shaw, with her first investment being in Vista Radio. Good remarked that her investments all seem to experience growth, to which Micallef revealed that under her guidance Vista Radio has grown from having just one radio station to 64 today, and that another of her investments, Subway, now has more franchises in British Columbia than McDonalds or Tim Hortons.

Good asked what qualities Micallef believes make for a good leader. “You have to be really bossy,” she replied, a comment which elicited laughter from the audience. “My mum was a strong woman, and that is where I got my training for leadership. I don’t know whether it is something you are born with or taught, but I have always taken the lead. In school I was always the first to volunteer, and my mum used to say that growing up I was the example to my brothers and sisters.

Over the course of the interview Micallef fielded questions from an eager audience, with one guest enquiring as to what her core values are in life. “My attitude in life is to be successful,” she replied. “I don’t mean to be arrogant or egotistical, it is just a matter of fact approach. When we started Vista Radio we had no money, but we did not doubt for a minute that we would not succeed.”

Good then asked what her expectations of her employees are, and whether she expected them to be available 24 hours a day. Micallef responded that she is respectful of her employee’s time with their family, and is careful not to frighten people into being accessible. However she acknowledged that the majority of her employees recognize that business carries on outside of business hours.

Micallef then fielded another audience question from a Beedie School of Business MBA student, who sought her advice on negotiating tactics. “One mistake people often make is talking too much and not listening,” she advised. “Negotiation, for me, is about finding a solution for both sides. I am proud to say that there has never been a deal I wanted to close that I did not succeed in closing.”

Good closed the interview with his customary Vanity Fair question: which four people, alive or deceased, would she choose to have dinner with? Micallef revealed a guest list of inspirational figures, including Jim Abbott, a major league pitcher born without a right hand; Viola Desmond, an African Canadian woman who raised awareness about racial segregation in Canada in the 1940s; and Roy Thomson, a radio salesman who established his own radio station after the First World War in order to give his customers something to listen to.

Micallef’s final guest turned out to be her grandfather, who had worked as the minister of agriculture in Malta before the Second World War. He had been responsible for turning it into a self-sufficient nation from one heavily reliant on imports for food. When Malta was attacked by the Axis Alliance during the War, the techniques her grandfather had introduced meant that the nation was able to sustain itself.

To see all the CEO interviews from the 2013 CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/

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