Smart Workforce Summit: 4Fingers' culture of discontentment

CEO Steen Puggaard shares the key ingredients behind the fried chicken chain's turnaround in the last three years.

Singapore fried chicken chain 4Finger's secret sauce is neither its popular Korean soy nor spicy chicken dressings.

The key to its success, says CEO Steen Puggaard, lies in how the company enforces a culture of discontentment.

“We try to force a culture of discontentment, and it is not a bad thing,” Puggaard shares at HRM Asia's Smart Workforce Summit 2017.

“Discontentment is positive because it means people are never satisfied and always strive for more.”

He recalls hows this is a world away from where the company was three years ago.

When Puggard took over 4Fingers as its CEO for a second time in October 2014, he had to put aside his ego and identify what he wanted to achieve.

In his first stint as the head of 4Fingers between February to September 2013, disagreements between him and the owners over “fishy” financial matters resulted in him being fired from the company.

“I was fired because they didn't trust me,” he reveals.

But that experience also proved to be his greatest motivation at turning things around.

“I was 49, had two kids and a mortgage and no job, but after putting it aside, i decided to take matters into my own hands,” says Puggaard.

Instead of waiting around for things to happen, Puggaard went on the offensive, facilitating a change of ownership back at the fast food joint, and even investing a 3% stake in the business himself.

By April 2014, he was once again the CEO of 4Fingers, and began to rebuild the Korean-style fried chicken business.

Now in his second attempt with the restaurant, Puggaard realised it was paramount that he understood what his purpose was.

“Conventionally anyone would say the CEO's role is to enhance shareholder value, but the purpose is also to expand our market reach by changing processes and the culture,” he says.

Since then, he has enforced a culture throughout the company to “think like a corporate, but act like a start-up”.

What this means is employees are empowered, and even encouraged, to be “rebels with a cause” - always be agitating, be disrupters and revolutionising the food and beverage industry.

“We want to empower our store managers, so instead of calling them that, we now call them mini-CEOs,” says Puggaard, whose own business card consists of the unusual but insightful title of "Leader of the Resistance".

“Think about it, they are empowered to make any decisions for the business and their outlets. We tell them 'act first, then defend ur actions later.'”

And the results show. In the last two years, 4Fingers has achieved 80% brand awareness, and increased its annual revenue from S$2 million in 2013 to S$35 million this year.

But Puggaard is not resting on his laurels just yet.

“We're growing and there's still more work to do,” he says.  

For all the pictures from Day One of Smart Workforce Summit, see our gallery here.

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