Steve Romaniello Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
Seventeen years ago, Steve Romaniello read a book that said a manager focuses on processes, while a leader focuses on people. Years later, that still resonates with him as he leads 150 corporate employees and about 1,200 restaurant and manufacturing employees as president and CEO of FOCUS Brands Inc., which franchises more than 1,700 shops primarily under the Cinnabon, Carvel and Schlotzsky’s names. Smart Business spoke with Romaniello about how he cultivates leaders in his organization, even if those skills benefit someone or something other than the company.

Hire positive people. Frankly, I work too much to have a group of people around me who aren’t fun and positive.

No. 1, without any hesitation, is the attitude. You can tell a lot about the technical skills from their resume. You can test for it. But there’s no replacement for a good attitude. You either have a good attitude — a can-do attitude, a positive approach to life, a positive approach to interactions with other human beings — or you don’t. I don’t think that can be trained.

Look for physiology. Is it an open physiology or closed? How do they respond? Are the answers canned or not canned? If you present them with a problem in the interview process, is their approach to solving the problem one that they come after with a positive or a negative slant?

By asking the right types of questions, you get an idea fairly quickly as to whether or not people are genuinely upbeat or have a genuine approach to their business versus those that don’t. Ask them about describing difficult situations and how they’ve gotten through those situations.

I love to play the what-if game. Use what-if to put them into a situation where there are different paths and approaches that they can take. The path and approach will indicate whether it’s being approached positively or negatively.

Focus on people. Have constant reminders everywhere you can. Each year, we have a leadership survey where the associates evaluate the managers in areas related to communication, goal-setting, involvement — all things that we talk about focusing on the people as opposed to the process.

We do a monthly bulletin to our team and celebrate those people that demonstrate those great characteristics of leadership. The biggest award for any associate is called the Leadership Award, and we celebrate it to the 10th degree.

If we can create that kind of environment where we’re focusing on them, letting them do their jobs as opposed to making them do their job a certain way, you get better buy-in and a better result.

There’ve been times when I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘You’re preaching this, but you’re doing this,’ and help me get corrected. I think it’s only possible because it’s so prevalent in our culture, so people see it, recognize it and can relate to it, and remind us when we get off path.

Identify leaders. We, as a senior management team, reach out and evaluate the talent in the organization. We evaluate things like results but also the intangibles of how they relate to others in the organization below them, at their level, above them, what their organizational influence is, what their intellectual capacity is, what their desires for growth might include.

We’re trying to help them become better leaders. We hope that by identifying and investing in them, they will ultimately be able to apply what they have learned to benefit FOCUS Brands, and even if not, it’s still not a bad thing.

Whether they’re going to be a coach, a parent, a friend, at some point in time, they’ll be leaders in life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found helpful leadership in my life that didn’t come from work, so it certainly doesn’t have to be in just a managerial situation.

Have one personality. At the end of the day, I make sure there’s no distinction between how I live my life at home and how I live my life at work. I look at business as just another part of life.

I spend a lot of time with business, and instead of trying to have one persona at work and one elsewhere, it’s a heck of a lot easier to be yourself and treat business the same way you treat people outside of business.

Stay true to your values. We talk about the difference between leadership and principle leadership, and the distinction there is in injecting into leadership the Golden Rule and making sure that while becoming a leader, you’re also staying true to a moral compass that you can be proud of. That goes back to the whole notion of not separating how you act at work with how you act at home.

It is a matter of discipline, transparency and of inclusion. If you are open as these issues come up, and you have to solve them as a team, it’s a lot harder to get a group of 25 people to all agree to do something bad.

Assign a great deal of value to things that may not be financially driven. If someone makes a decision that may appear to be in conflict with the company’s interest financially but is the right thing to do from a human standpoint, you should point those out when they happen and celebrate them. Let everyone else know that you don’t have to compromise to be successful, at least in this organization.

Show instead of just telling. In our culture definition, it says something about guest service. One of the managers of our restaurant got a call from one of the guests and she said, ‘I ordered my sandwich with olives, and they put jalapenos on it.’

He said, ‘Don’t worry — I’ll fix it,’ hung up the phone, made a new sandwich and then drove the sandwich to her place of work. What we were able to do was highlight this person’s behavior in the subsequent leadership bulletin, not just to recognize what he did but also to tie that experience directly back to the exact words that relate to it in our culture definition.

Tie the actual activity or behavior with the written word to bring it together for people, so they could see culture in action and better relate to it. They can have real-time, real-life examples of what it means. Being able to see that is probably the best training they could ever get.

HOW TO REACH: FOCUS Brands Inc., (404) 255-3250 or