Life full of beans for coffee man Sandy

Sandy Gourlay
Sandy Gourlay

WITH scores of coffee shops in the region which includes Dacorum, Costa is a major business. Here we find out what makes Sandy Gourlay, 43, the chain’s man responsible for retail development in the area, tick.

Full name:

Alexander George Gourlay but I am known as Sandy to everyone. I come from a line of eight generations of Alexander Gourlays – my son, also Alexander, is known as Alec.

Town where you live:


What are your business qualifications?

Having left school in Scotland with O Grades and Highers, I started an apprenticeship as a chef at Gleneagles. Several years later I attended the Scottish Hotel School in 1987 but returned to business a year later. I don’t have formal qualifications but have gained a huge amount of experience and business education within the hotel sector and by growing as a manager with Costa and Whitbread.

What is the name of your main business and what does it do?

Costa is the leading coffee shop business in the UK and we recently won the award for UK’s favourite coffee shop by Allegra. Costa is growing throughout the world. We provide the best coffee, served by fantastic people in stores wherever our customers need us.

Where would you like the business to be in 10 years time?

The biggest local business in the world where all our customers can tell you why we are special.

What positives can you extract from current economic conditions?

Despite the economic climate our customers are more determined to treat themselves when they feel they deserve it, and with so much going on in the world, they seem to deserve a little treat more often. We have a passionate commitment to making a simple everyday experience feel special.

What motivates you to get up in the morning and go to work?

Knowing that the work I do makes a difference to the people I support and in turn our customers.

I am proud that my children know what I do and understand the commitment we (Costa) make to the likes of the Costa Foundation and in our local areas.

What is the most important thing in life and why?

Knowing that in some small way you have made a difference or contribution to the world or some of the people in it, left some form of legacy. Knowing that your children will take on some of your values and that they have learned from your mistakes to avoid making them too.

At what age do you aim to retire and what will you do after that point?

I’d like to retire while I’m still fit enough to climb mountains. I’d like to have a small guest house for walkers and host dinner parties in the evening, walk it off on the hills in the daytime.

What is the most important thing you learned at school?

You can do pretty much anything if you put your mind to it. You can do even more by working as a team. I found self belief and individuality at school but also the value of using that in a team to achieve even more. I taught myself bass and started a band while at school, this continued into the early years of my hospitality career but not before we had found a little taste of success.

This helped me challenge myself later to try new things and not be afraid of being different, out there.

What one subject should be placed on the curriculum?

Nothing prepares you for life like learning to cook for yourself or to entertain guests, washing and ironing your own clothes so you can present yourself properly.

A good firm handshake would really be helpful when stepping out into the big wide world.

Have you ever had to sack someone on the spot and why?

Yes – with appropriate process of course. I watched as the cash I had given them for my transaction missed the till and went straight to their pocket. I was the last customer that individual served in that job.

Who is your inspiration in business?

My late father managed after-sales service for Phillips Telecom backing up a sales department serving emergency services and fleet customers around the world with radio telecommunications systems. As a young hotel manager he helped me with leadership advice and time management techniques. Many of his words resonate with me today. Much of how Richard Branson achieves success inspires me, putting his people at the front of his profit chain, enabling them to deliver service to customers, which make the Virgin experience special.

How do you switch off and relax?

I love an epic movie and a malt whisky but my preferred switch off is by finding open space in our mountains where there is no trace of humanity and also no phone signal. I walk with a few friends and recently my son has found that he enjoys the physical challenge of climbing to the top of a mountain.

How do you measure business success?

Success is the positive result that endures beyond the here and now. Success is sustainable and long term, it’s meaningful and wholesome and it lives on in the people that help create it, no matter what ‘it’ is.

What is your favourite piece of business jargon and why?

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always had.

Where does your confidence come from?

Knowing deep down I’m right.

How do you ensure that people don’t go to sleep in meetings?

Always talk with passion and conviction but don’t talk loud all the time, people have to listen harder when you whisper.

Throw in a random thought or comment every now and then, get them thinking, and get them talking.