Charles Chen: Igniting the Flame of Fiery Passion and Purpose at Nando’s

Charles Chen

Charles Chen, CEO, Nando’s

From the streets of Johannesburg to over a thousand locations spanning six continents, Nando’s has ignited the taste buds of millions worldwide. The restaurant’s culinary fancies have enticed our taste buds like nothing else. Beyond the fiery embrace of its tantalizing dishes, what excites us is its world-class ambiance, delectable service, and passion that creates a symphony of sensations among every food enthusiast. But what is the secret sauce to its success? Peering in, we are thrilled at the exalted ideals, vision, and loyalty of the man behind the incredible success of this iconic restaurant brand. 

Charles Chen, the CEO of Nando’s has been instrumental in crafting the tale of culinary extravaganza at Nando’s. For Charles, good food becomes the best food when it is seasoned with the love, care, and compassion of the people associated with it. So, at Nando’s, we find every legendary recipe exudes the aroma of its leader’s passion, loyalty, and commitment. “Passion is the enhancer that turns a good recipe into great food. That’s why passion, also one of Nando’s values, is more obvious in the F&B industry because it translates directly into what the customer consumes”, affirms the leader. Under his stewardship, Nando’s displays a fervent commitment to sustainability and social responsibility that ensures every bite we take contributes positively to the world around us. 

With an illustrious journey spanning the telecommunications, F&B, conglomerate, trading, and banking industries, Charles Chen gained an enriching tapestry of experiences that has shaped his leadership of transforming Nando’s into a beacon of success and passion. Drawing from his diverse work experiences, the leader talks about having a clear vision and a strong principle, which, as he propounds can solve every problem, regardless of the business domain. Far and wide, Charles stresses the ability to adapt to various situations and the capacity to learn from every situation, good or bad. However, in the F&B industry, he asserts a different leadership style- one that involves him personally, one that requires the human touch to build connectivity with the customers. “You must roll up your sleeves, go down to the ground and truly be where your customers are”, Charles adds, showcasing his hands-on approach at Nando’s.

Triumph amidst Turmoil

In the face of adversity, Charles demonstrates a commendable approach to leadership that is as authentic and exhilarating as the fiery embrace of Peri-Peri It was his remarkable turnaround management skills, decisiveness, and steadfast attitude Charles navigated through every difficulty with much dignity and resilience. Amidst the Pandemic, it was his Courage, Pride, Passion, Integrity, and Family that gave him the strength and energy to sail through choppy waters. Come what may, Charles always prioritized the well-being, security, and stability of his employees. So, he quickly complied with the Govt. orders and shifted his focus from dine-in to delivery and takeaway services, so that nobody could lose his job. The pandemic also expedited Nando’s transition into a multi-channel business, aligning the company for future growth and opportunities. Thus, though the storm was fierce, Nando’s was safely anchored by its leader’s bold and prompt initiatives.

Leadership with a Human Touch

Charles Chen’s leadership style reflects humility and accessibility. He believes in treating everyone as part of the team, from restaurant crew members to shareholders, allowing them to witness his human side. This approach has fostered a unique culture at Nando’s, where values like family, integrity, and courage are paramount. The leader’s strengths in general management, vision, leadership, and execution are reflected in his humble and accessible approach. “One shouldn’t be engrossed in titles like CEO or manager; you need to be accessible to everyone, from restaurant crew members to shareholders, as everyone needs to see your human side,” advises the leader.

Success at Nando’s is not solely attributed to a perfect team but to an effective one that works harmoniously together. Chen ensures Nando’s culture remains vibrant by engaging, developing, and empowering his team while encouraging them to embrace innovations and technology. E-learning, virtual training sessions are introduced to upskill, reskill, and make the Nandocas aware of the latest work culture.

Nando’s Essence: People, Passion, and Culture

It is the passion that permeates the culture of Nando’s. To Charles, the statement “Nando’s is not just about the chicken. It’s about the people who make the chicken” holds profound meaning. At Nando’s, each recipe is meticulously crafted with a lot of passion, care, and compassion that enhance the taste and authenticity of the food. He believes that passion is the essence that turns good food into great food, and Nando’s culture reflects this passion. “We’re always finding ways to keep the flames of passion burning in our people,” he proudly declares.

At Nando’s, the focus on people and culture is the major driving force behind the company’s success. The illustrious ceremony like The International Grillers’ Challenge, held every year to honor and exalt the contributions of the unseen heroes behind the success of Nando’s- “the grillers”. In the eyes of Charles, such events are the ideal platforms to recognize the efforts of those dedicated individuals, who constitute the backbone of the company. The leader takes this as an opportunity to bring the heroes to the limelight, celebrate their extraordinary contributions to business, and thus reward them. Such events serve as a beacon of inspiration for everyone, and ignite within them a collective spirit of creating excellence, while acquiring invaluable expertise in the process. 

Purpose-Driven Impact

As a purpose-driven brand, Nando’s mission extends beyond the restaurant. Charles believes in making a real-life difference in people’s lives, which extends to Nandocas, customers, business partners, and communities. As a mark of their commitment to sustainability, at Nando’s, Charles has implemented ‘No Chuckin’ Our Chicken’ program since 2020, which has been expanded nationwide since July, 2023. 

The program involves meticulous temperature monitoring, freezing, and subsequent donation of unsold cooked chicken at the end of each business day. By adopting such practices, Nando’s is striving to minimize its environmental footprint and contribute to the well-being of the community. Collaborating with charity partners, the leader has undertaken some remarkable initiatives supporting the poor and the homeless refugees, women and children.  “We’ve learned that some food waste is unavoidable, but we try to reduce it as much as possible,” says Charles, underscoring the company’s ethos and dedication to corporate social responsibility. 

He firmly believes in embracing diversity and providing a supportive working environment for all. “Everyone’s different, and everyone is welcome at our table,” he says, highlighting their commitment to inclusion. Through his flat organizational structure, Charles encourages two-way communication, empowering individuals at all levels to challenge the status quo and drive innovation. 

Charles’s engagement with the youths, and his involvement in various charity programs, exemplifies the leader’s true concern for the community. Under his stewardship, Nando’s prioritizes diversity and inclusivity, offering opportunities to differently-abled individuals and collaborating with the Orang Asli community.

Sharing nuggets

Charles Chen’s journey as the CEO of Nando’s embodies the values of authenticity, ethics, loyalty, and leadership. With a vibrant can-do attitude, the leader inspires cognizant leadership that develops from self- analysis, and self-introspection. So, he insists us to accept every failure as a learning opportunity, leading to growth. His journey exemplifies that failure is not an impediment, it is the ladder that helps us attain a greater height.

As we draw close to the overwhelming life story of Charles Chen, at APAC Entrepreneur, we are excited to present him as the pioneer and pillar of inspiration, igniting the flames of culinary passion and success at Nando’s. With his unwavering commitment to people and culture, Charles Chen continues to revolutionize the F&B industry and inspire the world, one succulent chicken dish at a time.