Reduce direct reports — within reason. A top tip I wish someone had told me before becoming a CEO is, reduce your direct reports. This is in place today, however since I had a similar high position in the company early in the company’s development, there was a time when I had many direct reports. These were hard to reduce as I didn’t want to necessarily stop my close relationships with team members, plus, I was being a control freak. The sooner you can empower your management team to deal with filtering out the daily ‘noise’ of running a business, the better, and you can focus on the important tasks. I still, however, ensure my door is open for special circumstances to anyone in the company (a key part of our culture and the sharing of new ideas.)
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom and Laura Gozney. They started Gozney by making commercial pizza ovens under the Stone Bake Oven Company brand in 2010. In 2013, they started Gozney Ovens to sell to commercial establishments. Then they added Roccbox, the world’s first portable, insulated stone floor oven to the portfolio in 2016. Available for home chefs everywhere, it can cook at extremely high temperatures, exceeding 932 degrees Fahrenheit. Launched via crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Roccbox raised more than $1.2 million USD in just 45 days.
Thank you so much for joining us Tom! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The story of Gozney started one night when I tried to make dinner for my then-girlfriend (now wife). I made a pizza from scratch and cooked it in our conventional oven, the results were dire. I decided then that it had to be possible to make something better. The next day, I built a brick oven in my garden, and my friends started asking me to build ovens for them as well. I realized there was a demand for products that would allow people to enjoy more social dining experiences than just grilling surrounded by smoke. From there, I started researching and designing a compact, competitively priced stone oven and created The Stone Bake Oven Company, selling a range of stone ovens that gave people access to a restaurant-style oven. It was an immediate hit, growing the market for stone ovens almost overnight. In 2012, we launched Gozney Ovens creating commercial ovens for use in restaurants and in 2016 we released Roccbox, a game-changing, portable wood and gas-fired, stone-floor oven.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
In the early days, I had to perform every company function, marketing to accounts, SEO to customer service! Being a jack of all trades was a challenge. Taking advice from my father, the first support I could afford was having his accounts managed by a bookkeeper. Great advice that has stayed with me to this day: don’t scrimp on the finance function.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I have an addictive personality. Whilst this may have been my downfall in my teens, it’s become a strength in business. It means I won’t stop, I can’t stop, moving forwards with Gozney. My first job opportunity was also working with children aged 11–19 with autistic and severe learning difficulties. It taught me kindness is free and is always important. It’s something I still take with me into my current role and bears it in mind when I am dealing with suppliers, clients, my team and customers.
Can you share your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO”?
1. It can be exhilarating and lonely
Being the face and voice of Gozney is an exciting, but also pretty lonely existence. On one hand, you get to experience some of your ideas develop from just that, an idea into a product or direction with the help of a skilled management team. However, consistently being responsible for making the final decision and being available on call can be taxing. I try to combat this with regular talks with my executive and non-executive directors, even if that means chatting through another off-the-wall idea at 10 pm on a Sunday night. If you are in with Gozney you are all the way in!
2. Reduce direct reports — within reason
A top tip I wish someone had told me before becoming a CEO is, reduce your direct reports. This is in place today, however since I had a similar high position in the company early in the company’s development, there was a time when I had many direct reports. These were hard to reduce as I didn’t want to necessarily stop my close relationships with team members, plus, I was being a control freak. The sooner you can empower your management team to deal with filtering out the daily ‘noise’ of running a business, the better, and you can focus on the important tasks. I still, however, ensure my door is open for special circumstances to anyone in the company (a key part of our culture and the sharing of new ideas.)
3. Relinquishing the small important tasks to other people is difficult but essential
It’s tough going, giving control over to trusted individuals within the company. Admittedly, I still believe this is not something you do lightly. An ill-suited manager, if left unchecked can result in considerable disruption, especially for a fast-growing, young, company. So, delegate generously and wisely.
4. Carving out personal time doesn’t get easier, deal with it
I used to have an unrealistic expectation in terms of work-life balance- thinking the next project or new management hire would enable me to achieve the longed-for equilibrium I wanted. It’s simply not the case, you carve your life balance and it won’t change until you put the effort in.
5. Company culture is still your responsibility
It’s up to you to take time to work on company culture ‘maintenance.’ Gozney has grown quickly and it is easy to make company culture a low priority as bigger projects come along. Although everyone makes the culture at Gozney and managers have a key role to play, it’s important that culture is led and lived by the CEO.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Work doesn’t get easier, so learn to prioritize now. For the majority of my career, I have been locked in a sprint, working long hours in anticipation of a finishing line being just around the corner. It’s easy to juggle multiple commitments and work long hours thinking about the next contract or the next hire will be the answer. The truth is the sprint never ends, the terrain just changes. It’s important to prioritize what’s important both at work and in your personal life, as the cumulative effort is what reaps the rewards.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife. She was there when I first came up with the idea for the business (admittedly, she was dubious at first!) right through to today, where she remains my business partner and support at work and at home. Laura quit her job early on so we could struggle through the early days together. For some time neither of us took a salary as we worked to get the business off the ground. We used to split the responsibilities evenly, eventually specializing in our own areas as the company has grown. But Laura has been there since the beginning and we would not be where we are today without her.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally: I would love to achieve a better balance in his home life, and I am currently working on it. I now have a little boy to share my life and another baby on the way and I hope I will be more disciplined to manage my work-life balance, whilst somehow making time to finally eat right and exercise more often…
Professionally: Our dream is to become the universal go-to brand for premium outdoor products for the home and industry.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope that my lasting legacy will be for driving a movement in stone ovens, making them more accessible, engaging, affordable and enjoyable to use.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Cooking in a pizza oven transformed my life. After quitting drinking at a young age, it opened up my social life to sharing great food with great friends, all cooked on an open flame, outdoors. I find the process of cooking with fire immensely therapeutic and there’s a back-to-basics charm about it all. If I could start a movement it would be to encourage more people, of any age and in any situation to share the benefits of making, baking and breaking bread with each other.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn and you can follow our Gozney social media accounts here: