Serving up success in a pandemic: CEO doubles multi-million dollar business
‘Leadership can be a lonely area to manoeuvre, and I felt a great sense of responsibility. My TEC group of like-minded, strong business leaders was instrumental in helping me to shift my mindset into the right space’
CEO of Libelle Group, Johannes Tietze, harnessed his passion, experience and peer network to successfully navigate the challenges of COVID-19; growing business revenue to $12 million in 2020 and a projected $38 million in 2021, serving up over 30,000 healthy meals to school students across New Zealand every day.
Johannes has been creating and delivering healthy meals to school students since 2005, starting with a single school and a turnover of $200,000. After becoming a member of TEC in 2016, where membership combines peer-advisory and 1:1 mentoring, Johannes began to accelerate his organisation’s growth and by 2019, Libelle Group was a $6 million business.
As COVID-19 hit in March 2020 and the country locked down, uncertainty set in. The prospect of a prolonged lockdown, including the closure of schools, would grind Libelle Group to a halt. As he faced this unpredictability, he sought comfort in his TEC group.
Peer support with decision making
‘With my TEC group, we processed the issues arising in our exceptional growth path, and I gained perspective, focus and support to move forward.’
After an initial inability to operate during lockdown, the announcement of a fast-tracked expansion of the New Zealand Government’s new Healthy Schools Lunch Programme, Ka Ora, Ka Ako, presented a significant opportunity for the organisation.
“Ka Ora, Ka Ako was a huge opportunity for the Libelle Group. It meant there was a shift in Kiwi perception and prioritisation of the relationship between nutritional food and successful students. For over a decade the Libelle Group had been creating and refining tailored menus to address the nutritional demands of students, so we were well-placed to harness this opportunity,” says Johannes.
According to Johannes, turning the expansion of the programme into a catalyst for business growth would see Libelle Group investing millions of dollars in kitchens, staff and distribution to provide healthy lunches to thousands more students.
“Navigating lockdown and school closures, while also trying to harness this opportunity, wasn’t something I could do in isolation. A multitude of decisions needed to be considered, and made, by myself and my leadership team.
Developing resilience and agility
‘For me, TEC is a safe space to bounce ideas around with like-minded leaders from a diverse range of industries. They’re invested in my success and I am in theirs. I’ve gained high value out of the sessions, people and presentations offered through TEC over the past five years, and will only gain more in the years to come’.
Johannes says his TEC peer group sessions and one-on-one peer mentoring with his TEC Chair have helped develop strength in the areas of resilience and agility.
“When schools closed as part of the New Zealand lockdown, business went from 100 percent capacity and productivity to practically zero. The COVID-19 wage subsidy was a saving grace for my workforce during this period. It also offered an opportunity to reflect on our team, structure and performance, to best place us when things began to open up again.
“From a people perspective we didn’t fall apart during the pandemic; being there for our staff and putting them first was key for us,” says Johannes.
In the last three years, Johannes has had a clear objective to develop an effective, connected and successful leadership team that is geared for growth and exceptional outcomes.
“One of the most valuable things I’ve got out of TEC is being able to work on myself and apply those learnings as a guide into my senior leadership team, specifically from a resilience perspective.
“Involving my leadership team in my TEC mentoring sessions has created a lasting effect on how we structure our team and maintain regular, effective communication. We also learned to self-reflect and ask more questions of ourselves, and each other, to ensure personal and professional growth,” explains Johannes.
According to Johannes the future for Libelle looks bright.
“After doubling the business in 2020, we’re set to do the same again this year; with a projected turnover of $38 million for 2021,” says Johannes.
“We’ll no doubt face challenges with growth of this magnitude, however I have full confidence in my leadership team, and the continued role TEC will play in my personal and business success.
Johannes Tietze is the founder and CEO of Libelle Group. Originally from Germany but grew up in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and various other places.
His professional background started in political science and journalism, before moving into the hospitality industry, cooking within several hotels. Johannes travelled back to Germany to complete an accountancy degree and also spent some time teaching.
His passion for health and understanding of how nutritional food fuels students led him to start Libelle Group in 2004. Born as a food service supplier to schools, Libelle Group initially offered tuck shops services. Since then, Johannes has expanded his business to provide the full spectrum of food service in the New Zealand education sector .