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How This MBA Graduate Turned A Passion For Chicken Into A Thriving Food Business

Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business’ 14-month MBA program has been critical to Rory Bate-Williams' success as an entrepreneur


Mon Jan 8 2018

Rory Bate-Williams has turned a passion for chicken into a business. The Brit founded Voodoo Chicken & Spice, which sells Cajun and Creole food, after identifying a gap in the market and drawing upon his expertise in the food industry and mission to bring people together.

In his previous career, Rory was an apprentice to Ranjit Singh Boparan, founder and chief executive of the UK's largest food company, 2 Sisters Food Group, and assistant to Justin King, the former CEO of British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

He also worked as a trainee investment manager in London, and a marketing analyst at luxury fashion house Burberry in Shanghai.

But he struck out on his own, establishing a wide range of startup companies including Boink!, a messaging platform, and Glow Save, a startup in the UK retail energy market.

The 14-month MBA program at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) has been critical to his recent success as an entrepreneur. He chose the Beijing-based business school over competitors because of its famed alumni network—more than 50% of CKGSB alumni hold chairman or CEO positions, and together their companies accounted for one-sixth of China's GDP in 2014. That network has been helpful: both classmates and other alumni have provided Rory with “invaluable” advice on business processes in China.

As part of the course, Rory also received a mentor who is a successful technology entrepreneur, and who provided guidance on how to scale a tech company. Below, he shares more insight into the MBA.

Can you provide an example of how the MBA has been of benefit to your startup company?

If I have a question, I reach out to the alumni network and normally receive a response within 12 hours. As an example, I reached out to an alumnus who recently raised $200 million in Silicon Valley to ask about China inbound and outbound remittance. I received information that was invaluable to my decision-making process in under 12 hours.

Why did you decide to get an MBA? 

To learn the theory behind business. There were many times in my career when I could have made better decisions and acted more quickly — had I known the theory. I also wanted to learn about the different parts of business to which I had not been directly exposed. I knew that studying an MBA would provide me with the knowledge and skills needed to run a big organization, rather than just be one part of it.

What made Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business stand out? 

World-class faculty and an elite alumni network. The business school’s faculty, whilst being mostly Chinese, obtained their PhDs from elite European and US institutions; many also gave up prestigious tenure positions to join the school. They offer unique academic insight into both Eastern and Western business principles. It's this scope that no other faculty in the world can provide.

In terms of alumni, more than 50% of CKGSB's alumni hold chairman or CEO positions and, together, their companies accounted for a sixth of China's GDP in 2014. Business is all about people, and I knew that access to this unparalleled alumni network would give me a head start in setting up a business in China.

What support have you received as an alumnus-entrepreneur? 

I am often invited to alumni events with the Chinese business community in London. I have full access to the CKGSB careers center, and remain in contact with many staff members and faculty.

Which part of the curriculum was most relevant to entrepreneurship? 

I loved professor Li Wei's macroeconomic course that incorporated aspects of psychology, history, and the study of human nature into the syllabus. It provided a level of understanding that cannot be found in a textbook. The mentorship program, in which I was partnered with a technology entrepreneur and with whom I am still in contact today, is another particular highlight.

Highlights outside the classroom included networking with the EMBA class, and visiting pioneering Chinese internet companies including Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu.

The largest number of highlights however, came from my CKGSB MBA classmates, who showed never-ending hospitality, taking me on trips to their home provinces, and to karaoke every time there was an excuse to celebrate!

How was your startup founded? 

I founded Voodoo Chicken & Spice after identifying a gap in the market for Cajun and Creole food, and drawing upon my expertise in the food industry and mission to bring people together.

What is its mission? What problem are you trying to solve? 

To create physical spaces that bring people together over good food, and remind people what's good about life through hospitality.