Jeremy King: on diversity, age in the workplace and the importance of state of mind

At 64 years old, legendary restaurateur Jeremy King is showing no signs of slowing down with his latest London restaurant, Soutine, set to open this Spring. Jeremy is one half of Corbin & King, the company responsible for the opening of iconic London restaurants such as The Delaunay, The Wolseley and Fischer’s. The company is built on a foundation of top class customer service which makes people feel recognised, comfortable and special throughout their dining experience.

At the same time as a YouGov poll revealed that nearly half (46%) of over 50s think their age would disadvantage them in applying for a job, Corbin & King announced plans to more than double the number of older people working for the company. We talked to Jeremy – who is a strong advocate of age diversity in the workplace – to find out what contributed to his business success, what advice he would offer job seekers in their 50s and 60s, and what his own plans are for the future.

Which aspects in particular do you think have made your business so successful over the years?

Chris [Corbin] and I have always insisted on trying to be leaders, rather than followers. Everywhere you look at the moment people are following and not leading enough. I’d like to think that we are innovators who constantly challenged the status quo.

“I think diversity in all senses of the word is crucial to the 21st Century - it’s what enriches us.”

You have spoken in the past about diversity in the workplace, whether that’s cultural or age diversity. Why do you feel so passionately about it?

If I had to nominate one of my staff as employee of the year, it would currently be a phenomenal 18-year-old who has just joined the staff at one of our restaurants. Watching her interact with the General Manager there who is 50 years old is a sight to behold – they work so well together and for me that’s what it’s all about. The combination of youth and age is intoxicating.

I also do staff inductions and one of the things I’m always struck by is that if 30 new people are joining the company; often only three or four have English as a first language. Last time I checked we had 64 different nationalities working for the company.

For me there’s no question that we couldn’t run Corbin & King without a wide ranging workforce. Not only in demographic, but in origin, gender, colour, religion, sexual preference and last but not least, age. I think diversity in all senses of the word is crucial to the 21st Century – it’s what enriches us.

Jeremy King on age diversity

“Someone over 50 may be new to a business, but they’ve experienced a lot of life and that is very, very useful.”

Where do you see particular strengths in some of the older workers you’ve hired?

Someone over 50 may be new to a business, but they’ve experienced a lot of life and that is very, very useful. There’s a big thing which we as humans have suppressed, largely because of our tablets and phones – and that’s intuition and instinct. An older person can have a wealth of that.

For example, I can walk into a restaurant and I will know whether everything’s alright without asking – I can sense it and I’m normally right. It’s purely because I’ve done it thousands of times.

Age is a state of mind, and it’s really important that you don’t try to justify it.”

Sadly, many Rest Less members feel shut out of the workforce and even discriminated against because of their age. What advice would you offer to those readers who feel ignored by the workforce today?

Age is a state of mind, and it’s really important that you don’t try to justify it.

If you present yourself well and refuse to let your body give in to the ageing process, I find it makes all the difference. For instance, one of the little rules I set myself is never to make a noise when I sit down and stand up! Occasionally I have back or knee issues and if I’ve been sitting for a long while, I get up and start to shuffle. But it’s all about state of mind, so when you get up, stand up straight and say “I’m fine” – it’s amazing how quickly it doesn’t hurt.

I think the most useful thing you can do during a job interview is to engage the employer in the eye, because it becomes compelling. I’ve come across many people over 50 who have lost their confidence, and struggle to hold eye contact as a result. But if you make strong eye contact, you’re showing them that you have no reason whatsoever, not to do the job. If you’re an older person going into a new industry, there’s strength in having enough confidence and authority, that people can’t help but believe in you.

“I think anyone over 50 has really got to ask themselves, what do I want to do?

And, whilst you’d never know it, as someone who is not far off the state pension age themselves, you show no signs of slowing down. Do you have any plans to hang up your boots soon, or do you plan to keep going for another 20 years?

I have no plans to retire, however there’s a lot that I find appealing about having more time. But if I did retire it would be to have another career. I can envisage being the proprietor of a hotel in a resort-type spot, and living there for six months of the year, which I think would be the perfect compromise for me. I’d like to carry on working, but have more time.

So far, everything I regret in my life tends to be something that I did because I should do it. I think anyone over 50 has really got to ask themselves, what do I want to do? Now is the time to do what you want to do, and hopefully you can escape the burden of having to make too much money, having to provide, and so on.

What are your thoughts on age diversity in the workforce? Do you have plans to retire or start a new career? Email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Are you interested in working for Jeremy's company, Corbin & King?

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