“We have kind of an ad-hoc approach…”

It’s fitting that the man behind the newly revamped Jazz Café likes to go free-form, but how does Steve Ball, founder of the Columbo Group, hit the right notes?

While many bosses live and die by spreadsheets and strategy, others thrive on a more fluid approach. Step forward Steve Ball, founder and director of the Columbo Group,a hip collection of London bars and nightspots, including the renowned Jazz Café, which he’s reopening this month. And, while the father of two has to work unsociable hours, he has a booming business, time to hit the gym and cheeseburgers on tap.

Start small “When I was 21, I started off distributing club flyers with a friend. It wasn’t glamorous or profitable, but it got me noticed. I was out every night working harder than anyone else and I soon got taken seriously. I met many people from the hospitality industry that I went on to do business with. It turned out to be an invaluable apprenticeship.”

Roll with the punches “Recessions aren’t all bad. Obviously, it’s awful when people lose their jobs, but it’s a chance for the status quo to be shaken up. During the recent recession, some larger businesses struggled, but we were able to make acquisitions that we wouldn’t normally have been able to.”

Size isn’t everything “No matter what size your company, you’re going to face challenges. Accept that. Larger companies can get buffeted more by general market conditions, but smaller ones can react and move quickly. We specialise in being agile, hands-on and bucking the trend.”

Put in the hours “Our venues are an extension of who we are and it’s important we’re passionate about what we do. Yes, the unsociable hours can get to you, but when you believe in your business and give it your all, you reap the rewards.”

Trust your instincts “If that passion isn’t there, you’re going to struggle. We once opened a bar we weren’t passionate about it and it was a failure. We realised that decisions have to feel right and we have to believe in them. It means we’re less strategic, but we make up for that in intuition.”

Make time for family “Everything I’ve said comes with a huge caveat: I have a very understanding wife. I have to ‘do the rounds’ every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, which means that I drop into every one of our venues to see how the places are running. Sunday night is date night, when I spend time with my wife.”

Enthusiasm is infectious “The Columbo Group’s first venue was the Old Queen’s Head. We were there all the time and we loved it. We were so enthusiastic that it was infectious and the customers bought into it, too. There was an electric atmosphere and it launched our company in the right direction.”

Lead, don’t manage “What makes a good pub isn’t just the building blocks, it’s the atmosphere and people. I encourage my staff to put their own personalities into the place. We have 10 venues and it would be impossible for me to micromanage each. I try and lead by example and give the staff breathing space to succeed on their own terms.”

Change perceptions “There was once a time in Britain when jobs in the hospitality industry weren’t well regarded, but it’s starting to be seen as a worthwhile career. We invest in training and development, and if we can help change the industry for the better, then I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Choose a business partner wisely “My business partner, Riz Shaikh, is very different from me, but we work well together. He’s much more outgoing than me and I’m more artistic and creative.”


This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/