John Duncan on running an award-winning group


John Duncan was recognised at last year’s Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards for his contribution to the Australian bar industry through his work with The Keystone Group. That work saw him win the Most Outstanding Contribution award.
He’s seen the group become a national operation over the last year and has taken on the title of Chief Property and Corporate Development Officer. The Keystone Group has in excess of 25 venues, and is continuing to expand making it one of the country’s biggest hospitality groups—they employ approximately 1400 people.

What does an ordinary day at the helm of The Keystone Group involve?
The most enjoyable aspect of my job with Keystone is that no day is ordinary. Most days are split between the office, venues and site visits.

Could you tell us a bit about what you were doing before Cargo Bar first launched?
I gained invaluable experience working as a Project Manager in the construction industry for several years. While I was studying I worked as a bartender so I relate to all hands-on positions held at Keystone.

How has your background in construction helped you at The Keystone Group?
During my years working in the construction industry I acquired extensive building knowledge which has made me more astute when assessing the feasibility of potential sites.


What are your tips for building a great team at work?
My key tip would be to ensure all staff are engaged in what they do. As long as everyone has a common goal and you celebrate the achievements, both large and small along the way, all staff will remain united in ensuring the business is the best it can be.

How do you know when a space is right for a venue? Is it the venue concept that comes first, or the location?
Potential sites are always assessed on their own merits. Patience and lateral thinking are essential when viewing sites as occasionally a site that is earmarked for one part of the business is perfect for a different experience.

How do you maintain consistency of service and experience throughout a group with so many staff?
Each Keystone venue offers a unique experience to patrons, but all venues pride themselves on exemplary service and providing customers with a memorable experience. Consistency of service is achieved through training, management and customer feedback.

Are there any mistakes you’ve made that have taught you valuable lessons?
I don’t think you ever stop learning, but experience and forecasting reduce the risk of errors. As Richard Branson once said “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over”.

What’s the achievement with The Keystone Group that you’re most proud of?
I am most proud of the diversity of experiences The Keystone Group are able to offer in our hotels, bars and restaurants and the recognition that our various venues have received. Cargo Bar recently won Best Entertainment Venue at the AHA Awards in 2013 after being in operation for 13 and a half years. This was a huge accolade and a testament to the venue still remaining one of Sydney’s best. Similarly, Keystone winning the award for Pub Operator of the Year at the Bar Awards in 2013 was truly gratifying.

What’s in store for The Keystone Group in 2015?
Keystone is a story of growth and we have plans a foot for expansion both in Australia and offshore in 2015.

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