On Wednesday, Chicken Licken confirmed the passing of one of the greatest businessmen in South Africa, George Sombonos, announcing he had just been laid to rest.
Sombonos lost his battle to cancer and passed away at the age of 67. He’s always said that his daughter Chantal Sombonos would be his successor, and we expect that she will continue to grow the business.
In a previous interview with DESTINY, Chantal said that she was more than ready to take over the business from her father.
READ MORE: Chicken Licken founder dies at the age of 67
“I grew up in the business and am familiar with all its facets. I used to come here for training during the school holidays,” Chantal said. “The late Steve Jobs once said that you can produce great work only if you love what you do. That’s how I feel here. I love finding solutions to different challenges.”
Here is an extract of an interview that DESTINY did with the business great, which reveals not only his acumen for business but also his humanity.
See the interview with George Sombonos below, written by Masego Lehihi:
In 1972, fast-food industry apprentice George Sombonos was given a ticket to America by his father. Once there, he acquired the expertise he needed to eventually return to South Africa and start Chicken Licken, the largest and most successful fried chicken franchise outside the US.
What difficulties have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
One big challenge was changing the perception of Chicken Licken as a second-rate brand. We’ve done that by reputation management, ongoing and clever advertising campaigns, fighting racist landlords in order to move into upmarket shopping centres and delivering the highest-quality chicken on the market.
Seeing people fulfilling their potential in a country where everyone at last has a voice [makes me happy]
What else are you working on?
You can’t be a Jack of all trades and master of none. My main focus is to build on what we already have and grow the Chicken Licken brand even further.
You were one of the first people to have a fast-food franchise in this country’s black townships. How has that situation changed, demographically?
A large percentage of South Africa’s black population is emerging as a new middle class, bettering their standard of living and moving out of the townships and into the suburbs. So it’s made good business sense to follow them and move most of our outlets into more affluent areas.
Are there still Chicken Licken franchise opportunities open or have you reached full capacity?
As long as there’s a market for our chicken, we’ll never reach full capacity. We’re constantly on the lookout for sites for new stores, affording plenty of opportunities for potential franchisees. All our outlets are currently undergoing a facelift to match our new, upmarket look.
What still excites you about the Chicken Licken brand today?
Everything. Our chicken sales increase year on year, our advertising campaigns are more sophisticated, our stores are now in affluent areas and our franchises are hugely sought after. Our target market is widening, so we can offer more employment to people. What’s not to get excited about!?
What makes you angry?
Franchisees who don’t respect the brand, people who infringe on our trademarks and racist behaviour.
What makes you happy?
My two-year-old grandson, and seeing people fulfilling their potential in a country where everyone at last has a voice.
What’s your favourite quotation?
The words of Donald Trump: “When you retire, you expire.”
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Right here in South Africa. This is my home.
What don’t people know about you?
That I’m a very shy person – and that I’ve never missed a single day of work at Chicken Licken!
This article first appeared in the December 2008 issue of DESTINY magazine.