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Robbie Brozin changes lives ‘one chicken at a time’

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Nando’s co-founder Robbie Brozin, the recipient of this year’s Kirsh Family Lifetime Achievement Award in honour of Helen Suzman, has done much more than pioneer a chicken empire. Brozin has focused his fiery entrepreneurial spirit on uplifting South Africa, Africa, and the world.

“Great ideas are really what’s going to change the world, and what’s going to change South Africa,” said Brozin. “From a Nando’s point of view, I really believe that great art makes our chicken taste better. There’s a South African soul to the brand, and it’s that soul that we’ve exported, we’ve exported that creative energy.”

This energy was honed by then-new advertising agency, Hunt Lascaris (TBWA Africa), which Brozin and his founding partner, Fernando Duarte, hired once they’d opened their third Nando’s store.

“We proposed that Nando’s become an irreverent brand,” said John Hunt, the chairperson of TBWA Global Creative. That was the start of Nando’s creativity, said Brozin.

Today Nando’s has 1 200 restaurants in 23 countries. “All the magic, all the things that Nando’s believes in, everything that has made it successful, emanated from those first few restaurants with Robbie – from the values of the business being all about people,” said Rob Papps, the group chief executive of Nando’s Group.

Once Nando’s grew to 1 000 stores, Brozin stepped down as chief executive, realising that he needed professional management and support to scale up the business. Though it was the correct decision, it left him feeling lost. “The magic, the inspiration, and the thing that makes Nando’s so special was Robbie, so if Robbie lost his soul, the business would lose its soul,” said Papps.

Once Papps pointed this out, Brozin sought a new purpose, co-founding social-benefit organisation Goodbye Malaria, which has had a massive impact on Africa’s fight against the disease. “Robbie’s lighthouse seems to be, ‘How can I make this world a better place?’ not just ‘How can I sell more chicken?’” said Hunt. “He just sees things differently.”

Aside from his work to eradicate malaria, Brozin is dedicating himself to uplifting Johannesburg through multiple initiatives including renovating the inner city and igniting a project to digitise health records at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

“There’s a second struggle that’s emerging, and it’s a struggle against poverty,” Brozin said, expressing his regret for not being part of the struggle against apartheid. “For me, if we can’t fix Joburg, the whole country and then the whole continent really is in serious trouble. I found my courage to do that through the Constitution of South Africa.”

It’s Nando’s that enabled him to live his purpose by tackling this second struggle, Brozin said. “Listen to the music under the noise,” he said. “South Africa and Africa is full of music, and that music is driven by the creators. It’s the crazies that are going to wake the nation.”

Accepting his award, Brozin said stressful times like these can redefine the platform of future generations. “It’s through these moments of chaos that true change occurs. It’s through taking optimistic action and having hope that opportunities are created. There’s no greater purpose in life than building a shelter that we might never sit under, but that we know is for future generations. The projects we’re doing are all about the future.”

His hope is based on the words of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that South Africa will be good until Moshiach comes, and even better afterwards. But it’s also rooted in the words of the Constitution, which is a “pact made in the name of the people of South Africa and our blueprint for change”. Brozin urged ordinary people to take charge of creating such change.

“I accept this award on behalf of everyone who works tirelessly two shifts a day, seven days a week, with our vision to have fun and make money, to change the way the world thinks about chicken, and to change lives one chicken at a time,” he concluded.

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