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.

The Leadership of Ray Kroc and his drive to Catering Sales!

I decided to write this blog in advance of the upcoming Restaurant Leadership Conference in Scottsdale from March 25-28, 2012.

In preparation for the conference, I have been reading everything that I can about Ray Kroc these days. As I dig deeper and deeper into his story, I become more fascinated with his meticulous attention to detail. Like all entrepreneurs, he struggled to make his venture work. He went through the growing pains, set the culture and set a clear direction for his people. He fought hard.

As an entrepreneur and working on my 9th business, I can identify with his relentless desire to succeed. He was a fantastic businessman and very passionate about getting it right.

I found this really cool video, made by a few creative high school students, Zac Smith, Michael Warren, Jason Kiracofe and Daniel Alweis. I have embedded the video here for all of you to peruse. Good job on the school project boys. I think it tells a lot about who he was and what he was about.

I wonder if Ray were here today, what he might tell us about the current state of our multi-unit restaurant industry? I wonder if he would be happy with the outcome of what McDonald’s stands for today. Would he be proud? I wonder what he would say about McDonald’s building a catering revenue channel for his brand? I had a dream this week that Ray read my book. He loved it. Thanks Ray. I appreciate the support.

From what I have read, and as I have come to know him through other people’s words, his own book, Grinding it Out, and the number of videos and articles that are available on his leadership and management style, I would venture to say that Ray would have mixed emotions today based on where his brand stands. Sure, he might be proud of the stock price. Or would he? I think he would be horrified at all the negative tweets and comments. Knowing Ray, he would do something amazing to set it all on the right track. Just as great leaders like Howard Schultz or Ron Shaich have done with both Starbucks and Panera. Oh, and if Ray saw the traction that Panera is getting on their catering operations, he would want a piece of that market for sure. Because that’s what he was about. Being in front.

In the beginning, for Ray, and for all our leaders, it was all about looking after his customers. He wanted growth, but not at the expense of diluting his brand and experience. Of course, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the world was a different place. I am certain that had Ray known that his McDonald’s would eventually become the fast food giant that it became, he only would have wanted it to do so if it was in the best interest of his customers.

He had a vision for the business, for the systems, for the experience and for his internal culture. He could not see the negative impact ahead on the dietary issues of fast food on our children and our communities. I have no doubt, that had he seen that, he might have managed it differently. I am certain, that if he were with us today, he would be working very hard to fix it.

Today, as McDonald’s continues to be the largest hamburger chain in the world, it still amazes me that even though the culture of Ray Kroc may just be a ghost in the wall, the organization continues to try to adopt to the ever changing needs our consumers. In my opinion, McDonald’s has done a superb job at trying to keep up with the trends, trying to morph their menus towards the more current fast casual type model.

Of course, to move a system this large to a new model, is not only difficult, but it requires a tremendous amount of investment and gumption. McDonald’s may not be the healthiest choice in the market place yet, but I predict that in the next 10 years, they will move into the top position of the fast casual market. They will do it, because they have the real estate, the brand and their consumers are going to only shop there if they continue to adapt to the ever changing dietary needs. Especially in North America.

So, this brings me to my next question? Will McDonald’s offer catering services that are scaleable across the brand? What will the program look like? I believe that they already have, but they have not hired the right leadership to take them the rest of the way. I found this little nugget in the United Kingdom that really convinced me.

Is McDonald’s Fast Casual?

Well, it all starts with the Deli doesn’t it? Well, at least that’s how it started for me!

Then as I dug further, I found this:

So, you tell me! What kind of leadership will it take for our multi-unit restaurant community to finally decide to take catering as a serious business? Especially in the QSR segment. If you have a powerful brand, and you tell your customers that you offer alternative services, they will buy from you. We already know that. So, the next question I have is “can they execute?”.

I believe that if any of our community leaders decide to pursue catering as a serious business, then they would in fact see a lift in their sales that our industry has not seen since the day’s of franchising and drive-thru. But, it doesn’t matter what I believe. Or does it? Because like Ray Kroc, I too am an entrepreneur. And so, I will live or die by my conviction and my leadership. And so, as I put this article to rest, I call out to all of you in a restaurant leadership position to really take a hard look at the facts. Catering is here to stay. If we don’t do it, the grocery segment will (as they already are).

Ray would want us to compete and compete hard.

I believe that catering offers our multi-unit restaurant community a true opportunity to grow. So much so, that I put it on Video, wrote a book and am betting my entire future on this transformative idea. This video is 3 years old. So, it’s now 15 years.

Tell me. What do you think? I hope you can share your thoughts with me. This is a great debate!

Building To Grow – Invent Genius Turnkey Systems

MonkeyMedia Software is my 9th Business Venture. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs; some more successful than others. Always working on the design of my companies. Always trying to be remarkable, somehow, some way, even on the days when I might be feeling like a fake. Feeling like a fake you ask? Of course! You think us entrepreneurs always know where we are headed? No way. Always trying to service my customers. Always trying to find a way to differentiate, to compete.

I spend so much of my time just dreaming. Dreaming! For those of you that know me well, I often get so far ahead of myself. These days, I dream a lot of how our multi-unit restaurant community will embrace catering in the next decade. I am certain of it. I am seeing it more and more, day by day. Especially here in North America where markets are competitive, and consumers are screaming loudly at all of our operators to provide more services.

I read a lot. I write a lot. I scour the internet for good material to help me grow my businesses. It’s ironic that I ended up in the consulting, education and software business. Or Is it?

After all, as an entrepreneur I am always trying to grow my businesses. You can only do that if you work on your systems. Your belief systems, your sales systems, your service systems, your business systems…. It’s all just a set of subsystems, leading into one giant turnkey system. At least, that’s the way out for most of us. We need to build it to grow it, or we just get stuck in it.

So many of us work “in” our businesses and we just have a hell of a time working “on” our businesses. I know, you’ve heard it before, but I found this great video by Michael Gerber, Author of the E-Myth that I think really speaks volumes to this conversation.

After watching this inspiring speech, I dug further. Further into our restaurant industry leaders. Just a couple of them; ones that we all know. And boy, did they suffer in their humble beginnings. Here is a small tidbit on Ray Kroc’s early business “surprises”. I love the way he almost went broke at the beginning. Why? Because I have been there myself on more than one occasion.

And so, I continue down my path of trying to learn more about the early days of the food business. I was recently in Kentucky, and I felt that I had to visit the grave of Harlan Sanders. I’m not sure why, but I just felt compelled to pay my respects; So I went. Here’s a photo of my visit.

It was interesting to see that others have been to this gravesite. And to pay their respects, if you look closely at the photo, you will see that fans actually leave Heinz Ketchup Packages organized in a row on his tombstone. Heinz ketchup packages? I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but then I realized that when you are part of pop culture, you influence young people too.

I started thinking more about what it must have been like in the early days of these entrepreneurs. How did they get up each and every day and fight the battles they needed to fight to get through. Well, they just did. They didn’t think about it that hard. They just did what comes natural to them. What they thought was right. Were they always on track? Were they always correct? No. Certainly not. But no matter.

But what all of us entrepreneurs share is a common belief that we are adding value. That we are innovating. That we must dig in deep to our will to survive. I love this video of the history of Harlan Sanders:

This video reminds me to never give up. It just doesn’t matter what the competition is doing. It only matters that you just keep going. Pick a direction and keep going. It might not be the right direction, but that’s ok. At least you picked one.

In the end, for me, it always comes down to the leadership. It’s about being firm. It’s about being clear. It’s about finding people that are smarter than you to work with you. It’s about being fair. It’s about being kind. It’s about being generous. It has everything to do with the people you surround yourself with.

If Ray Kroc and Harlan Sanders were alive today, I would be trying my hardest to show them just how catering, and following my “turnkey system” of strategy, education and software can change their modern day business. I know what you are thinking. “Erle, if you are so sure, why don’t you just call up the current leaders of today’s brands?”.

Well, I have been and I will continue to do so. Many are listening, and many are working with me. Experiencing success with these turnkey systems.

So, as the world turns tomorrow, I am building my business to grow! What about you? Focus on what’s right in front of you and just keep going.