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AIB Featured Business Leader - Don Meij
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For Don Meij, CEO and Managing Director of Domino's Pizza Enterprises, success lies in the numbers. From the data that pours in on his delivery drivers GPS trackers to the online clicks that his ordering app provides, he keeps a close eye on every KPI that affects his company. Driven and determined, Meij has won awards for entrepreneurship dating back to 2004, when at 36 he became the Ernst & Young Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year. But neither numbers, nor pizza, were amongst his early loves.

Meij was born in Rockhampton in 1968, ushered into the world just two days after Christmas. Apart from a five year stint in Papua New Guinea, his childhood was spent in Queensland. He planned to be an art teacher, and attended the Queensland University of Technology in pursuit of that ambition. To support his studies, he worked at Coles, and then took a second job as a pizza delivery driver for Silvios Dial-a-Pizza. In 1989, with six months left to go on his degree, Meij was struck by doubt. Teaching may be a noble profession, he thought, but it certainly wasnt a well-paid one.

He resigned his studies, and instead took up a full time job at Silvios as a store manager. The intention was to work full time for nine months and then switch to studying a business degree, but instead he fell in love. Managing a pizza store might not be most peoples idea of a glamorous job, but Meij thrived on it. He loved the profit-and-loss statements, finding a thrill in turning the latter into the former. Meij quickly climbed the corporate ladder, becoming Area and State Operations Manager and then Director of National Operations.

In 1993, Silvios acquired Dominos, a US company looking to expand into Australia, and Meij became the General Manager. He was only 25. Silvios later merged with Dominos Pizza and all adopted the company name.

By 1996, Meij was managing 30 stores. He was keen to prove that the franchise model, at that point more common in the US, could work in Australia. Newly married and fired with ambition, he became a franchisee of a Dominos store in 1996, and within a year had made that store the second-busiest of the 5000 stores operating around the world.

Meij acquired store after store, building a portfolio of 17 and becoming the companys single largest franchisee. Although his original goal had been to own 20, he switched direction once more. Meij sold his stores back to the company in return for 12.5% equity in the company.  He was made Chief Operating Officer, and just one year later was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. When he took over, Pizza Hut were dominating the pizza market, with 427 stores to Dominos 174.

Within the next 18 months, Pizza Hut closed 130 stores, and Dominos rose to the top. Meij attributes his success to customer service and product innovation. Customers used to a stark choice between deep pan and thin crust pizza could choose a third crust. The toppings range expanded to include seafood and chicken. In later years, Meij harnessed the internet to allow customers to create custom toppings within an online ordering portal.

The new direction worked. In 2005, Dominos became the first Australian fast food company to list on the Australian Stock Exchange. It raised around $75 million, using the funds to expand the company and repay debts.

Under Meijs management, Dominos has become the market leader for pizza in Australia, France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, as well as second in Belgium. But Meij is always thinking ahead. An admitted workaholic who spends his evenings and weekends on the job, hes also a firm believer in keeping your company up to date. Were a technology driven company, he says.

Dominos were the first pizza company in Australia to develop both an iPhone and then an Android app for ordering. Customers can track the time it takes to make and deliver an order, and the goal is always to shave time off those numbers. Hes also looked into drone deliveries, partnering with New Zealand drone company Flirtey to carry out the first successful commercial delivery in 2016.

The drone may have successfully flown above any turbulence, but for Meij, the journey hasnt been so smooth. In February 2017, a Fairfax expose of the company saw Dominos investigated by the Fair Work Commission for systematic underpaying of staff and alleged intimidation of employees on working visas. Meij hit back at the claims, distancing the company from the behaviour of its franchisees and declaring a zero tolerance approach to breaches of obligations. The franchisees, in response, have claimed that the problems stem from unrealistic labour cost targets set by head office.

Whoevers right, the 16-17 financial year was not their best. A 25 per cent pay rise awarded to Sunday staff saw a 10% surcharge added to the cost of a pizza. The share price peaked in August 2016, but has since been declining. And more than a few commenters are wondering whether a takeaway pizza company can continue to grow much more than it already has, especially with rising labour costs in the mix.

While the future is uncertain, Meij remains positive. With a focus on the internet of food and drone delivery, hes pinning his hopes on technology to carry his company into the future. Barriers, like dominoes, are there to be knocked down.
 

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Franchise Business, Courier Mail, Weekend Switzer, The Guardian, Dominos and Australian Financial Review.

Image source: Financial Review