Cooking dinner for a thousand people a night is part of Jonathan Carter Morris’ daily routine.
From running the kitchen at huge hotels to gourmet cooking for a restaurant of 30, Jonathan’s had just about every challenge you can have in the hospitality industry. At the end of the day, it all boils down to having happy, well-fed customers.
Now, running his own catering company, Caviar & Chips, Jonathan’s got a fresh challenge of building up and co-running a business from scratch.
It’s the latest step in a long journey of entrepreneurship, one which has been honed and strengthened through an Executive MBA from Aston Business School.
A history of running businesses
A sense of opportunity, for Jonathan, defines his entrepreneurship. But his opportunities have seemed to pop up at the most unexpected occasions.
It started during his bachelor’s at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland.
Him and three friends, walking through the center of the town, spotted a derelict castle with a leasehold available. They spotted an opportunity, and a drink and a chat later, they were planning out their hotel business.
Funding was secured, bank accounts were opened—but the business was swept out from under their feet when a last minute cash offer bought the castle. But Jonathan couldn’t forget the feeling it gave him.
“It was amazing, just from walking past somewhere, that you can see an opportunity and get the creative buds going,” he recalls.
Fast-forward a few years and several cooking and catering jobs, his father became ill, and he found himself running his bespoke furniture business, with little-to-no knowledge of the industry. It was challenging, but it boiled down to the same simple formula.
“You take raw materials, you chat to clients, you get to a product that they’re happy with, you make it and sell it to them. In many respects, it’s just like preparing a plate of food,” Jonathan notes.
Avoiding a ‘fear of failure’
Jonathan didn’t choose to study an Executive MBA as a way of advancing his hospitality career—rather it was the opposite.
He wanted a wider look at business, a better understanding of how companies work and run, and he wanted to broaden his knowledge beyond the hospitality industry.
At Aston, he found an ecosystem which encouraged and supported entrepreneurs. What was unique was the way people spoke about their endeavours in an honest and genuine way.
“Too often, there’s too great a fear of failure. At Aston, there’s this acceptance that many businesses work, but also many don’t work.”
Through the MBA mentoring scheme, and through entrepreneurial projects like the BSEEN program, Jonathan found a space where he could talk to other entrepreneurs about his successes and failures, as well as the lessons he’d taken away.
He also met Marc Hornby, a fellow EMBA student, who would turn out to be his future business partner.
“We’d chat a lot about what we were learning, and found that entrepreneurship and being creative in business interested us both,” Jonathan remembers.
Balancing creativity with reality
They launched Caviar & Chips together halfway through their degree, and were able to apply what they were learning in real time.
From his previous startup endeavors, Jonathan knew he had a lot to learn, both from the program and from Marc. The business fundamentals of the Aston executive MBA program shows students the pillars of how to build a business.
“The whole way through, we were filling gaps in our knowledge. It highlighted a lot of things that you thought you should do intuitively, but wouldn’t actually work,” he notes.
The program has a very practical emphasis, providing students with experiences of applying their skills and tools from the program in a real way. The BSEEN program, a startup incubator hub at the university, allows students to build up their business plan to a point where they’re ready to launch it.
Step by step, lecture by lecture, the pair built their marketing plan, their financial plan, and how the core of their operations would function.
For Jonathan and Marc, the Executive MBA curriculum took them right up to the point where they clicked the launch button on their website, and the business went live.
This practical outlook ensured that their creativity was always balanced by a feasibility—could it actually work?
“The MBA really made us think more critically. Our imagination still sometimes gets the better of us, but there’s a lot more critique that goes alongside this to keep us in check.”
The most important lesson of entrepreneurship
The business is entering its third year, but Jonathan’s learning process is far from over.
“We’re learning things on a daily basis. But as long as you're open to learning and being challenged, you’ll be better for it in the long term,”
Through this experience, his other entrepreneurial endeavors, and his executive MBA, he’s had one big takeaway.
“Don’t be afraid of trying things, don’t be afraid of committing and getting things done. If you fail, it just means you’ve learnt something and you can try again.”