Success begins and ends with your people

For many companies, the phrases “people first” or “servant leadership” fall somewhere in between “drinking the Kool-Aid” and “at the end of the day” on the list of most over-used business clichés. But in my experience, companies — especially those in the retail and service industries — are nothing more than bricks and mortar without the people that bring those companies to life.

A highly engaged workforce should be the Holy Grail for all businesses today. People shouldn’t just be a means to an end; rather they should be an end goal.

No single aspect of a business is as important in the areas of building sales, controlling costs and shaping brand image as your workforce. Plus, don’t forget that how well a company treats its employees is likely a direct reflection of how it ultimately treats its customers.

Simply take a minute to think about how highly engaged service people affect your beliefs, and ultimately your patronage, of your favorite brands. This is why I believe the idea that “people first” can make or break a business.

Start with people instead of humans

I spent 15 years in Donatos’ People Department working in human resources, but it’s the department titles that made the difference.

I firmly believe that a strong work environment is one that allows people to bring their whole selves to work. Businesses that support the whole person instead of just the human they hire are more likely to retain good employees.

It’s all about family

Being a people-focused business goes further than work hours, it means caring about our people outside of work, too.

To help Donatos family members going through tough times, we started the Donatos Promise Family Fund. This program is designed to help offset medical costs or unplanned expenses for Donatos’ associates in a time of need. Anyone at Donatos can opt in to contribute to the fund as much or as often as they want.

With over $34,072 contributed by our Donatos associates, this program is a true testament of our associates acting like family, and continues to show our commitment to them.

Servant leadership also means making a difference around you

Businesses that claim a “people first” mentality must also look beyond their own walls.

Companies of all sizes should be able to give back to their community in ways that make sense — whether that is food drives, in-kind donations or simply volunteering time. These small (or large) actions do a much better job than any words could at displaying the people-first mentality of your company.


At Donatos, “people” have been a part of our mission statement from the beginning.

Today, we all face lots of competitors in the marketplace that offer different tastes or styles, more convenience, different price points and different experiences, even different business platforms. But, we all rely on people and how well they represent and execute our brand. They are the factor that can determine success or failure.


Jane Grote Abell is the Chairwoman of the Board at Donatos Pizza. A founding family member of Donatos Pizza, Jane is heavily focused on the chain’s mission of promoting goodwill through product, service, principles and people. She was named CEO of the Year by Columbus CEO, featured in CBS’s hit series “Undercover Boss” and released her first book in December 2015 “The Missing Piece: Doing Business the Donatos Way.”