by Mark Chillingworth

Jamie Oliver Group CIO Patricio Colombo interview – Recipe for change

Jan 18, 2016
Media and Entertainment IndustryMobile Apps

He has a passion and a talent for food, as well as an enthusiasm for communications; he harnesses these to be a vigorous agent for change. As a result, he is a brand, a brand that can influence and generate a transformation in government policy and the behaviour of a nation. As you may have guessed, these words are a description of Jamie Oliver, the chef who is now as well known, well loved and perhaps reviled by some for his campaigning attitude to make people eat healthily; and to enjoy eating well. So to be the CIO of Jamie Oliver’s organisation requires the same essential ingredients.

If you were to write down your thoughts of Jamie Oliver’s outputs, you’d have a list of books, television shows, campaigns, restaurants, labelled goods, magazines, websites, apps, social channels and, as with any recipe, perhaps I’ve forgotten something in that list. What is fascinating is that all of these elements are produced by the Jamie Oliver group, the organisation for which Patricio Colombo is CIO of. Just as with Oliver’s recipes and TV shows, the chef likes to know the provenance of the materials he’s working with. No self-respecting chef uses any old basil, lamb, butternut squash or mustard without some input and understanding of those ingredients. Oliver takes that same culture into his organisation, and owns and operates his magazine, websites and TV production. His organisation produce them.

“Working for a guy that’s a brand is trying but exciting. He’s an ideas powerhouse,” CIO Patricio Colombo says of his boss Jamie Oliver. “I’ve been here for seven years and every year is different as we produce so many ideas, some work, some don’t.

“He’s a really nice guy and a bundle of energy, exactly like you see on TV,” he says to the obvious questions about having a famous boss.

The Jamie Oliver Group cuts into four portions: media, hospitality, retail and the foundation. Hospitality is the restaurant chains, apart from 15, which Oliver set up to help disadvantaged kids.


“A big part of the group is to support the foundation,” Colombo explains. It is the foundations that are behind the campaigns too, the latest being an attempt to introduce a sugar tax due to spiralling levels of child obesity, diabetes and dental problems. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron refused to act on expert advice from both the foundation and independent sources, and tax high sugar foods, despite the deficit his government is failing to pay back.

“My main focus is the media part,” Colombo reveals of the four pieces of the Jamie Oliver group pie. “I have to make it work for all the verticals and they go at their own pace, and we look after Jamie’s family,” Colombo says of his role.

“We have TV production, Jamie magazine, the books, our own Food Tube channel on YouTube,” he says. As Colombo shows me around the Jamie Oliver headquarters of test kitchens and TV studios close to Old Street, London, we discuss how the area has become hot with tech firms, yet when Colombo started working there it was all but forgotten. In the days and weeks that follow the interview everyone at The Jamie Oliver Group will be ramping up for Christmas, which as a food and fun living organisation you can imagine is one of the major peeks in its year. “The build up to Christmas is in everything about the business; November is dedicated to Christmas,” Colombo says.

“IT, originally used to keep the lights on. But IT should facilitate the innovation that the organisation is driving forwards. I define the group as a giant startup and we behave in a startup mentality. That has positives and negatives, and creates challenges. So you end up with pockets of people in retail not talking to media and they all do their own thing.

“But IT is empowered to go out there and take the shadow IT and make it work for all the people in the business,” the CIO explains. Colombo is also being empowered to bring new concepts into the organisation. The week before our interview, the organisation had run its first hackathon and a Food Tech week of Ted Talk style presentations were about to take place, while startups with database skills were being worked with by the CIO, as he looks to help the organisation and its customers best discover and use recipes.

A year ago, Colombo took the organisation off its legacy email servers as the business technology leader saw they were past their best before date and he wanted a fresher approach to email management. He decided to opt for Google Mail and apps. Like many CIOs that have gone down the Google tools route, he has to have an estate that includes Microsoft tools as finance require Excel, and he reveals there are font licensing issues with Google that are a headache for an organisation with a publishing arm.

That media arm of the organisation is also preparing for, and taking part in, the digital change affecting all information sectors.

“Social media is very important, both for Jamie who likes a direct dialogue with his customers, and it is a huge opportunity for us to communicate what we do, both commercially and with the foundation. Food Revolution Day, has grown into an annual event, this year a global petition was signed by 1.5 million people, hosted 22 recipes and an online tutorial kitchen, involved 8,000 schools, events, an advertising campaign and called for the UK government to chair a G20 working group to make food education compulsory. We can use social media to really help drive those programmes forward,” he says of how the new information dissemination tools enable a UK-based brand to become a global phenomena. Born in Argentina, Colombo knows that his organisation is well loved in Argentina, and he’s pushing his boss to head out there and learn its unique cooking style.

As new media formats and business opportunities arise, Colombo says his challenge is to ensure the organisation is connected up and aware of all its various activities. For the customer, that means Colombo and the Jamie Oliver Group is pursuing the retail and hospitality holy grail, a connected and excellent customer experience, no matter the channel.

“If you are using our website or app, we want you to have a great experience and we want you to cook more. That means I am working on the concept of one conversation with the customer. The customer comes to us no matter the channel and they interact with us via mobile or an app, and we can carry on the conversation with you.

“Amazon has achieved this, your conversations with them start where you last left it,” he explains. In the past year Colombo and his team have integrated Salesforce as the primary back end to the Group, and he believes this will be the base ingredient for a connected conversation with the customers.

Eating out

In 2011, The Jamie Oliver Group placed its hospitality IT outside of the main group, which has its own IT leader, though Colombo says the collaboration is strong.

“They have 800 users, I have 200. There is a lot of IT in each restaurant, so you need to have a focus on that as there are tiny margins in the hospitality sector,” Colombo says of why they decided to divide the organisations.

Colombo joined The Jamie Oliver Group in July 2008 moving to a celebrity chef’s business from the celebrity glamour publishing house Hello.

“Hello was a very traditional publishing house and they are a traditional Spanish business,” he says of the culture change of the startup-like Jamie Oliver Group. The CIO enjoys the culture not only for its innovation and what I saw was a relaxed and creative atmosphere, but Colombo explains that everyone in the business is invited and encouraged to take part in the love of food. Every recipe is tested a multitude of times, and that means members of staff, including the CIO and his IT team, taking a new recipe and ingredients home and cooking it for themselves and testing it. Multi-variant testing of starters, mains and deserts is all part of the role.

Away from the heat of the kitchen and business technology leadership, Colombo has recently passed his flying test and flew to the Isle of Wight and the Kent coast, and has a love for motorbikes and photography.