The CEO of Pret was promoted 10 times from store manager to chief exec — here are his 3 top tips for getting promoted
- Pano Christou started working at the British sandwich franchise Pret a Manger when he was 21.
- Over the next 19 years he was promoted from the shop floor to the C-suite.
Pano Christou was 21 when he started at Pret a Manger as a store manager in London. Nineteen years and 10 promotions later, he's the CEO, a position he's held for just over four years.
Pret has 45 locations in New York and a handful of others in the US — mainly on the East Coast — but more than 250 in London and close to 500 in the UK. It was acquired by the German holding company JAB in 2018 for $2 billion.
When Christou left school, he went to work at McDonald's. He earned an hourly wage at other retailers like Blockbuster Video before starting at Pret. He told Business Insider he fell in love with the "variability" of the hospitality industry.
His decision to not go to university has apparently paid off. As Pret's CEO, Christou was paid more than £4 million in 2021, including a salary of £400,000, per The Guardian.
Christou told The Standard in 2020 that while his parents initially disapproved of his choice to forgo university and go straight into retail work, they're proud of him now.
Do the role in front of you to the best of your ability
Christou has held 10 positions at Pret. CEO is the position he's held the longest, followed by general manager, which he held for four years. He said he'd sometimes thought of moving elsewhere, only for another internal opportunity to present itself.
Christou said he remembered being one of the youngest store managers and then the youngest area manager, a job that included running one of Pret's flagship stores in London. That put him on the radar of the UK managing director Andrew Walker.
Christou recalled that Walker put him up for a specialist role "that didn't exist at the time," focused on troubleshooting issues as they arose. It was Christou's first foray into the more strategic side of Pret's operation.
Some of his professional jumps at Pret were big and unexpected, while others were more linear.
When Christou applied to be a store manager, he wasn't dreaming of running the company. He said he focused on doing his best in whichever role he had.
Christou said he believed he got noticed by company leaders he didn't directly work with thanks to his "leading from the front and gaining credibility," which he defined as being available for his team and supporting them.
Be confident in yourself — but not arrogant
Christou said that climbing the corporate ladder wasn't always as easy as showing up and doing your best. He said that going through roles quickly at first left him feeling like he had "imposter syndrome" and that he'd second-guess his abilities.
He recalled being one of three people gunning for a promotion to Pret's UK managing director — he was the most junior of them but won out. One of the other two left Pret rather than work under Christou, he said.
Christou described the jump as anxiety-inducing. He said that, arriving at Pret's "top table," he felt he had to prove himself because of his unconventional path.
Now having a different background from his fellow executives gives him credibility with people working at the levels he ascended through and a better sense of their concerns, Christou told BI.
He argued that the key to overcoming imposter syndrome and succeeding in unfamiliar situations is having a lot of self-belief but ensuring it "doesn't verge on arrogance."
"There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance," he added.
Maintain good relationships with management
The CEO said that having great managers he gelled with helped his ascension at Pret. "More often than not the leaders that I've worked for I've got on with really well," Christou said.
He said he felt his superiors "appreciated the value that I add," which encouraged him to stay with the company. "Any human feeds off the support of their line manager," he added.
Asked about some Gen Zers' more transactional approach to jobs and "job hopping," Christou suggested anyone considering moving jobs take a step back and think about "two or three attributes that really are important for them when working for a specific company."
Christou argued they should consider not just their personal satisfaction but also the company's staying power. He said that if you find satisfaction in your job and think your company's growing, you can "grow with it" — but if you're not enjoying it and the business appears to be stagnating, "maybe it's time to go and do something different."
Christou said he thought that putting his head down and working hard at Pret meant his "no-nonsense character" stood out to management and helped him move through the ranks.
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