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LIVE24SEVEN // Real Life INT E R V I EW – SAR AH WI L L INGHAM


Champs-Élysées – the first outlet in continental Europe for the American brand. They were really struggling with the cultural differences and asked the owners of the bar I was working in at the time for help and it was then that they recommended me. To this day, I still don’t know how and why that conversation happened, but it was life changing. It introduced me to Planet Hollywood and gave me a proper job. From that moment on, there was no going back.”


The heart of hospitality runs in Sarah’s blood and her drive and determination to deliver is immediately evident. “I describe it more as that instant gratification as you can change a consumer’s opinion right there in that moment – by either giving great service, bad service, rectifying a problem, creating magic. Whatever that might be, you’re having an immediate impact on the customer and you can feel it right away. For someone like me, I would struggle having such a distance from the consumer.”


From Planet Hollywood to Pizza Express, Sarah was quickly building an enviable reputation for herself as a voice to be heard in an exciting and fast moving industry. “Pizza Express was fundamental for my learning, understanding and confidence to go solo in years to come.


“I often say you shouldn’t underestimate the value that you can pick up from working for a big business. I first ran the international department for Pizza Express, travelling all over the world, opening Pizza Express’ across the globe. I felt like I had the best job in the world. I learnt so much about franchising, the legalities of business and how to adapt in a different culture. It then became apparent that international development wasn’t core to the business and so I moved to focus on the UK market, sharing an office with the Chairman and the Managing Director. This was probably the best thing that happened to me, as during that time I was privy to a lot of conversations about aspects of the business that I would not have understood before. I began to see everything from a value creation perspective, something that revolutionised how I viewed business. Pizza Express has an enormous place in my heart because it is the reason I had the success that I had. That’s when I knew I had to have my own business and it gave me the confidence to own and run the Bombay Bicycle Club.”


Sarah’s boundless energy and love of people was to carry her forward into the next chapter – Bombay Bicycle Club, the first chain of Indian restaurants. “I’m reasonably thick skinned and would have gone along with a big smile and lots of hugs for everybody, yet, my work with Bombay Bicycle Club was much more the business model. I spotted them when they were young, with only 5 in the chain. I bought the brand and streamlined operations, introducing proper processes and reviewing the branding to make it a concept that was ready to roll out. When I get under the skin of what makes something a great roll out model,


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