Kevin Hedderwick. Picture: MADELENE CRONJE

Kevin Hedderwick. Picture: MADELENE CRONJE

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Armed with what he describes as a "boere matric" from East London, where his parents were public servants, Hedderwick worked his way from being a merchandiser at Distell to marketing director. He then joined SA Breweries, where his peers rated him highly, but his lack of the "right" academic qualifications thwarted his ambitions.

So he quit, moved back to East London and used his life’s savings to buy a franchise of the Keg pub chain. Within a short time, he was appointed MD of Keg Franchising, which was then sold to the JSE-listed Kingco in 1997.

Hedderwick’s break came when he was noticed by the Halamandaris family, founders of burger outlet Steers.

The Halamandaris brothers had emigrated to SA from Greece in the 1950s, with just US$50 between them, to join their uncle, George Halamandres, who had opened the first Steers take-away outlet in the east of Johannesburg.

Steers listed on the JSE in 1994, but the company was stuck in a rut. So, in 2000 the family decided to hire a professional manager to ramp up the business. They chose Hedderwick. And it worked a treat: they spoke the same language and shared the same values.

Today, Hedderwick remains enormously respectful of the founders and says that without them he wouldn’t be where he is. They could say the same. Portraits of the founding family still loom large in Famous Brands’ head office.

Hedderwick’s audacious 16-year journey wrong-footed critics every step of the way. For a start, sceptics warned that Famous Brands would suffer from indigestion after snapping up Wimpy in 2003. Instead, it transformed the company.

What Hedderwick did was look to control all elements of the supply chain — besides the restaurants themselves, he built a manufacturing operation to provide a wider range of food products and a logistics business to deliver what they made.

Again, critics argued that he should stick to (the relatively low-risk) brands and franchising, instead of the low-margin logistics operations. Yet today Famous Brands’ business model is regarded as an industry benchmark.

As it stands, 40% of Famous Brands’ profit comes from its manufacturing and logistics operations.

"We’ve dabbled thus far," says Hedderwick. "Right now, you go to Spar, Checkers or Pick n Pay and you’ll find Steers, Wimpy and Mugg & Bean [products] on the shelves. But that’s really just been an extension of the marketing."