Blown away by the quality of leadership in our multi-unit restaurant community

Last week in Scottsdale, Arizona I had the good fortune of attending the Restaurant Leadership Conference for 2012. I had so much fun, especially with sharing my dream about Ray Kroc in this Video!  For those of you that missed it, just before the Bill Strickland presentation, I’ll share it here just for fun.  I’ll come back to Bill Strickland in a bit.

So, I have to say, that I am blown away by our community!  Really blown away! I think many of the attendees were.  And so, as I returned to Vancouver, It really got me thinking.  I mean, REALLY got me thinking.

Here’s the thing.  Of the 30% of attendees that I was lucky enough to meet, to greet and to make some acquaintance,  I felt that the quality of the our conversations were insightful, optimistic, kind and generous.   Those conversations were a gift for me on a personal level.  These gatherings are so important for all of us, because the food business is about people.  Making connections.  Intellectual, spiritual and emotional.  It’s just about the people.

So I started thinking more about that.  I really started to zero in on the quality of the  Keynote Speakers this year. Not that previous years have been anything to sneeze at; but this year, it was different.

Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo 

Joshua Olshansky Managing Director and Head of Consumer Retail Practice, Golden Gate Capital

Herman Cain Former President/CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Former Chairman, NRA

Howard Stoeckel CEO, Wawa Inc.

Ronald M. Shaich Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board Panera Bread

Edward H. Rensi Former President & CEO, McDonald’s USA; Co-operator, Tom & Eddie’s.  

Seeing that this was a Leadership conference, I studied these leaders.  I observed, I listened and I learned.  I saw how each of them really connects with their audience when they are speaking.  They spoke with high energy, intense belief and a passion towards a higher purpose in their work.  It was fascinating for me to watch.  I was mesmerized.  Impressed.  And most of all, I was learning.  

“That’s it!”, I thought to myself.  “It’s the learning!  The intellectual connections!  The idea of advancement!  Of making our industry better, so we, as people can be better!”.  Well, at least that was part of it for me.

So I started thinking more about that. 

Then I thought about the followers under these great leaders and within that following is yet even more leadership.  As a matter of fact, each facet of our business operations needs to have solid leadership.  And so, I started to wonder where exactly that begins and ends, from an organizational perspective.

Then I thought to myself that not all people can be or even want to be leaders.  Or do they?  I mean, if leadership remains a key theme throughout the entire culture of our organizations, then clearly if we can be leaders in our markets, then all of the people who work for us will feel like leaders.  So, it’s not necessarily about individuals as much as it is about whole organizations, industry’s and communities.

I want to call out two particular things I learned from the conference.

1.  Ron Shaich spoke on the topic of Conscious Capitalism.  Ron’s message struck me hard.  It’s brilliant and he has taken this perspective and applied it to the Panera Cares concept.  Here is a video that I found on Ron’s fantastic and creative effort towards making a difference in the communities he serves.

When I heard this perspective, I felt like I was watching a master, an artist.  I was watching a man that had so much trust in the human spirit, that he risked his neck on a new idea.  One that everyone called crazy.  And guess what?  It’s working.  The communities are embracing this new economic model and while that is happening, less privileged people are eating great food at Panera.  Getting respect and the end result is that these communities are healthier and those that are suffering from hunger, are getting food.  This approach to our community issues is not only brilliant, it serves shareholders as well.  This presentation really blew me away at the conference.

2.  The second most important presentation for me was from Bill Strickland.  Bill was so effective in his presentation, that he had most of the room shedding tears.  Why?  Because of his authenticity in his mission and his ability to connect with the human emotion.  For those of you that missed Bill’s presentation, I am including a clip that I found.  

I was so moved by Bill Strickland’s work, that I decided to learn more about his education perspectives.  He is building a facility in Vancouver and my plan is to get involved, from the beginning.  To bring purpose to others, to wake with intention and to be involved in impacting the human emotion in a positive and purposeful way.  

I took away a feeling of hope from these speakers.  That in fact, we can do more in our professional careers to make a difference.  To really make the world a better place instead of just living to increase shareholder value.  I love that idea.  Build it and they will come.  If you look after your customers, and you create the right environment, behaviour will change.  Profits?  Well, according to Ron and Bill, if you don’t focus on them, and you just focus on your “higher purpose” as an organization, the money will come.

I woke up very grateful to these two leaders today.  I want to thank them both for the gift they gave me in Scottsdale last week.  I encourage each of you to learn more from these great human beings.

Kat Cole – One of our communities great leaders

I’m really into learning from such great leaders these days. I heard Kat Cole speak at DineAmerica last year and I found her to be dynamic, smart, sincere and mesmerizing. And so, I have been meaning to put up a post about meeting her, and today I have some time on my hands… (Yeah Right!)

To my good fortune, I even had the opportunity to introduce her last year for her inspiring speech at DineAmerica.

In any event, I found this video blog of hers, and I thought it would be prudent of me to post it here.

Great Work Kat! Keep up the great work. I love watching you move mountains! Your energy is superb. Thank you for all you do for our multi-unit restaurant community.

It’s all about the people! – Hire attitude first.

I have been traveling ALOT lately.

In my business, that’s a good thing although I have to work hard at staying healthy. On my travels, I make a point of visiting as many concepts as I can. I marvel at the permutations and combinations of our community of multi unit restaurant operators. Corporate stores, franchise stores, licence stores, non-traditional locations and the like.

This last week, I saw something that to me, really demonstrates how difficult it is to scale a repeatable process across these assets.

I bring to your attention, an earlier post where I met the world’s greatest Starbucks partner. She was so amazing. So attentive. So kind. It resulted in a fantastic experience. The way I am sure Starbucks intended it to be.

In Dallas, at the airport, I went to the Starbucks in Terminal E. When I arrived, I was excited and thought what a great company this is. On top of the cappuccino machine, were the following awards;



Of course, as this award was handed out to this location, my expectations were high. As I approached the counter after a substantial wait, I was treated with such unkindness. The dichotomy of scaling culture and attitude became apparent.

You just can’t teach attitude. But you can hire it. I took this photo, and decided to post this quick story, not because I am anti establishment, but because I care so much. I love Starbucks and admire everything they do and have done for our industry. It makes me sad when it goes wrong for them, or anyone for that matter.

Upon closer inspection of the awards, they were dusty and neglected. Clearly, whoever managed this store when that award was won has moved on.

So, just like the awards were now neglected, so were the customers. The service was not only terrible, but the cashier was indifferent, had a poor attitude and just didn’t really want to be there.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a bad person. She’s just got the wrong attitude.

I have finally understood in my career that you must hire attitude and train skills. Because, human connection is the most important part of our business. It’s what we do. We bring peace and serenity to people’s day. That’s the hospitality business.

For me, this kind of negative experience undoes the positive ones very quickly. It’s so hard to gain customers and so easy to lose them.

So please, don’t allow your organization to get so big that the handing out of awards is simply mechanical. It needs to mean something. Our customers are so smart, they will sniff you out if you are not walking the walk.

I still love what Starbucks is doing and I think Howard Schultz is a fantastic leader. But I do feel an obligation to protect his team’s interest because I just know how hard they work to make sure experiences like this don’t happen.

It’s just difficult when you are so diverse and sizeable. Not impossible, just difficult. Starbucks, I know you can dig deeper and find a way to get better at this. Hire attitude!

My advice.