B. Comm., 1996
CEO & Owner
Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken and Taters
Gregory Roberts is the definition of homegrown success. A born and bred Newfoundlander who was raised in the rural community of Triton, Mr. Roberts has proven that dedication and determination can go a long way in creating a successful enterprise.
Mr. Roberts owns an assortment of businesses in his holding company, Pilley’s Island Enterprises Group, the largest being the Mary Brown’s Famous Chicken and Taters franchise. With 101 Canadian locations and international expansion into emerging markets underway, the Mary Brown’s franchise employs about 1,650 people. Pilley’s Island Enterprises Group as a whole employs over 2,000 in the restaurant, mining, technology and health care industries.
In 2011, Mr. Roberts was named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 – a prestigious award given by Caldwell Partners that celebrates the achievement of 40 Canadians in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors who have demonstrated remarkable success before reaching the age of 40.
Mr. Roberts completed a bachelor of commerce degree at Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration with a concentration in finance and accounting. Following graduation, he started work with a local chartered accounting firm, Morrissey and Company Inc., where he articled to become a chartered accountant (CA).
“I learned a lot from the partners of the CA firm and it really built upon my education at MUN exponentially,” he says.
Once his articling was completed, he began a small business in Pilley’s Island.
“It was a gas station with four employees,” says Mr. Roberts. “That was in 1998 … the business did well and then I bought a second business, a pharmacy in that area … and then I developed a restaurant in Pilley’s Island, next to the gas station, and that’s what got me into the restaurant business.”
Mr. Roberts didn’t stop here. He continued to seek financing and acquire new businesses.
“I kept building onto my first restaurant and then I got into some franchise restaurants, some pizza places, and then I got into Mary Brown’s. I bought my first [Mary Brown’s] franchise in 2003. Then I bought some more Mary Brown’s franchise units.
“At the time, I felt that the brand wasn’t doing what it could do. It was somewhat of a local brand; it wasn’t very big and I felt that of all the things that I was involved in, all of the businesses, that was the one company that had the most potential. So I kept getting more and more involved with Mary Brown’s and in February 2007 I bought all the shareholders out. They were all based out of Ontario, a group of shareholders, so I bought them all out and acquired 100 percent of the company.”
Mr. Roberts continued to get involved with other industries and develop other companies but in recent years has decided to focus strictly on Mary Brown’s.
“Mary Brown’s has done really well. We’ve nearly tripled sales since I acquired it and we’ve opened a lot of new sites. We’re expanding aggressively across Canada and we’ve started, in the last four years, to work around the world in emerging markets. My future is definitely the Mary Brown’s brand,” he says.
Mr. Roberts says that building an enterprise to this level is all about taking things one step at a time.
“It’s just building blocks,” he says. “I just concentrated on one project at a time and took the opportunities as they came … I was just too busy to really be saying ‘I want to do this and I want to do that.’ It was
more about building blocks and it’s still like that today.”
“As the CEO of a company this size, and growing, my number one task is to lay a strategic path forward for the company and that involves making sure that all of the departments are working together cohesively.
“I’m managing people, really, so human resources from back in the MUN days becomes more and more important,” he adds with a chuckle.
Mr. Roberts is focused on giving back to those who work for him as well. In the winter of 2013 he participated in Undercover Boss Canada, a reality television show, in which he posed as a new employee that was being followed by a film crew making a documentary about the rapidly expanding chicken industry. He learned how to perform the main roles of the company’s frontline workers including cooking and serving the chicken, cleaning the fryers, serving customers at the main counter and in the drive-thru, and making home deliveries. He even donned a chicken suit at one location.
Throughout the experience he was able to connect with the workers and at the end of the show he gave back in a big way, rewarding deserving employees with such things as family vacations, retirement funds and education funds for their children. He also gave a new home to one employee who had recently gotten engaged.
“We went to Carbonear, a couple of places in St. John’s, Halifax and Belleville, ON,” he says. “I just worked undercover and then at the end of the show I brought everyone into my head office and we did the review. We gave them rewards and they found out who I really was so it was pretty interesting.”
When it comes to success, Mr. Roberts believes that it comes from enjoying what you do.
“I tend to spend a lot of time with a broad spectrum of people that I consider friends and the ones that have done really well in their chosen careers – be it business, sports, the arts or what have you – are the ones who are really passionate about what they do. If you have the passion, success seems to come after, because when you’re passionate about something it doesn’t seem like work,” says Mr. Roberts.
“Passion has to come first, success will come after.”