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You’ve worked, you’ve grown, and now it’s time to make a statement. For an emerging business, nothing says, “We’ve arrived” quite like a signature event.

Before you begin, don’t even look in an event planner’s direction until you answer one essential question: What are you trying to accomplish?

Consider whether an event is truly the best tactic to achieve that goal. An event can be an exciting coming out party for your company. But if your objective is at all unclear at the outset, there will be headaches.

This year, we hosted the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards for the first time in the United States. Making this event our own was no small feat; for 13 years, Petplan U.K. has presented a similar event that’s become known as “the Oscars of the vet world.” We had big shoes to fill indeed!

Here are some lessons we learned along the way:

Make it your event

Just as a handwritten signature represents your personal identity and communicates a promise, your signature event must be a symbol of your brand and deliver on your value proposition. Recognizing and awarding extraordinary veterinary professionals dovetails perfectly with Petplan’s “Pets Come First” credo.

The Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards let us shine a light on the extraordinary veterinarians, veterinary technicians and practice managers who help keep our four-legged family in the very best health possible. These awards recognize not just their passion and excellence, but their exceptional “wow” service. The event’s purpose spoke directly to our mission.

If your event does anything less than that, you’re wasting resources.

Strategy is king

A good event engages a carefully cultivated audience, attracts media opportunities and generates goodwill in the community your business is a part of. This is where many organizations struggle.

While it is important to determine details like when, where and what’s for dinner, the focus should be on your event strategy: how you’re getting people there, what messages to communicate once you’ve got them and how to keep the conversation going when the event is over.

A feast for the eyes

A well-dressed window will compel people to gaze, so make sure the event’s visual branding lives up to the brand personality people have come to expect from you. For Petplan, that meant translating our fresh, friendly point of view into both décor and collateral.

The visual elements deftly delivered a few fun surprises that really felt “like us.” Once your strategy is firmly in place, don’t be afraid to cross your t’s and dot your i’s with a few creative touches

Face forward

A signature event is a great opportunity to put a public face on your company; think strategically about who you want to spotlight and how they’ll communicate your company values to the audience.

At the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards, our honored guests came face-to-face with our long-time friends and trusted advisors, not to mention key employees. Careful consideration was given to the seating plan to ensure that connections weren’t just hoped for, but inevitable. This made our event even more personal and gave attendees good insight into what we’re all about.

So many moving parts make up a corporate event. Make sure the foundation is sound and you’ll find that things will fall into place accordingly. Once you’ve nailed down your goals and hammered out the strategy, the rest is … well, a piece of cake!

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Published in Columnist

Staffed with beautiful servers in sexy plaid kilts and matching plaid tops, Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery has its roots deep in the tradition of Scottish, Irish and English pubs. Originally coming to life in Las Vegas, the contemporary, Celtic-themed sports pub is headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., and has been doubling in size for the past couple of years. Today, it has 3,500 employees, revenue of $240 million and locations across the country.

While many patrons may come to Tilted Kilt to view the attractive servers, President Ron Lynch wants to make sure the brand is seen for much more than that. To help him get a better view inside the restaurant chain’s stores and get a firsthand account of how its employees were performing, Lynch went undercover on CBS-TV’s “Undercover Boss” in 2012.

“Going undercover made me realize that we really employ a lot of young people,” Lynch says. “Human resources are always a challenge and more so in our brand because we do hire so many young people. For some of them, it’s their first job. Some haven’t even been employed as servers or kitchen help or bartenders for that long of a period of time.”

One of the biggest lessons Lynch learned from his time under wraps was that Tilted Kilt and some of its younger staff could greatly benefit from a mentoring program. In addition, he discovered that there were a number of superstar employees going unnoticed.

Here is how Lynch took his undercover findings and translated them to make Tilted Kilt a better place for patrons and employees alike.

Educate through mentoring

Many young people looking for some early work experience will often find jobs at an area restaurant. Tilted Kilt is no exception, and that led Lynch to launch a mentoring program to improve the Tilted Kilt experience.

“We assumed at the store level that the management/young-employee relationship was enough, but they talk more along the lines of taking care of the guests, providing good product, being upbeat and entertaining people,” Lynch says. “A mentor relationship can be more of a personal thing for them.”

The idea for a mentoring program surfaced because of the actions of one Tilted Kilt server in particular who appeared on “Undercover Boss”with Lynch. She was seen telling off-color jokes and using language that wasn’t acceptable.

“That doesn’t represent our brand,” Lynch says. “A mentoring program for those young people allows a more experienced server to talk to them and give advice. Coaching in these areas is for their own good.

“This isn’t just our brand. It could apply for any brand that hires young people. Sometimes they need a little bit of coaching when those young people are in the adult world.”

The mentoring program allows Tilted Kilt’s young employees, like the one seen on the show, to speak with more experienced members of the staff.

“The mentor program is set up so that they have monthly meetings and talk for a period of time,” he says. “We want to enroll all the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds before they are legally adults at 21. That’s where we have started.”

What Lynch has found so far in the company’s mentoring efforts is that you have to be persistent at getting involvement in the program.

“No. 1 is you have to persevere at it because your young people are going to be resistant to it,” he says. “They don’t think they need it. That’s the hardest part. We may need to rename the program something like Big Sister, Big Brother program — anything other than the mentoring program.

“At that younger age, they think they know everything, and so they think they don’t need it, and that’s the difficulty we are having with it. We need to put a different face on it and call it something different but have it accomplish the same thing.”

Lynch and his team are putting their heads together because so far the mentors and mentees are getting together, but they feel obligated to meet instead of wanting to meet with a mentor. That’s a problem Lynch is looking to fix.

“It takes time, but it’s also the approach that our servers take,” he says. “Rather than them coming up to that person and saying, ‘Hi, I’m your mentor, and we need to meet,’ and they go, ‘Why?’ Maybe there is a better approach.”

Seek out superstars

Much like with the mentoring program, Lynch found out that Tilted Kilt had some real hidden gems inside its restaurants during his experience undercover, which made him realize the company needed a better way to find these employees and recognize them.

“Another thing I noticed was that we have some fabulous people in the field that are going unnoticed,” Lynch says. “I would have never actually seen some of these people without going undercover. So our operations people and I are going to spend more time, particularly in the kitchen.”

Tilted Kilt needed a way to find those superstars within its system and make sure they prosper.

“I’ve challenged our operations people to go beyond that and get into the kitchens,” Lynch says. “Observe and talk to the kitchen people, maybe work on the line a little and assist them where you can. Then a great way to meet the servers is to offer to help run the food with them. That will help get feedback as to who those superstars are.”

To find those employees who are high achievers but might be going unnoticed, you have to challenge your staff to dig in deep.

“I know it’s uncomfortable and you’re in a restaurant that you don’t work in every day, but you have to pick out those roles that you can function in and dig in. You have to help them run and help them prep food and meet those people who are actually doing the job for us rather than just the owners and managers,” he says.

Finding great talent already in your business is one thing. Having the ability to hire those high achievers from the beginning is another. Lynch is also devoting time and resources to improving the hiring process.

Tilted Kilt uses a hiring process called HOST, which stands for hiring only spectacular talent. It’s a process that takes a minimum of 30 to 45 minutes to do.

“We have that potential bartender or potential server role-play with us,” Lynch says. “One of the common scenarios is I play the customer and the new person is the server. We want to know if they will communicate with us and connect. Are they a people person? Will they smile at the customer? That’s very, very key to us in the hiring process, and we spend a lot of time on it.”

You have to make sure that if you have one person in charge of a hiring process that he or she doesn’t get complacent and tired of it.

“It’s an interruption in their busy day, which is wrong, because that is the most important thing — getting the right people,” he says. “The hiring process is the No. 1 priority and the No. 1 priority that they do it right. If you have one person in charge of that hiring process, that one person will do it over and over and get really good at it and have the experience of knowing what makes the best employees.”

How to reach: Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, (480) 456-5458 or www.tiltedkilt.com

Published in National

The fear of failure is something that even the most successful and gifted of employees can bring with them to the office.

They are afraid the product won’t be successful or the phone call won’t be returned. I can still remember being almost terrified to make a sales call on one of the largest food companies in the world because I was afraid I would fail.

If we don’t work through this fear, it will almost certainly lead to paralysis.

We procrastinate while waiting for better conditions to develop and remain “stuck” where we are, rather than where we want to be. I must admit I put off starting some new initiatives using that same fear-based rationale. I can clearly recall thinking, “Maybe I will launch my own business, once some additional favorable elements fall into place.”

I was stuck.

But it is our job to help our people overcome their fears and prevent them from becoming stuck. We need to create a courageous workplace. Here are a few techniques I have used to build a courageous workplace for my wonderful employees.

Pursue excellence 

The tool that best fights fear is the pursuit of excellence. It’s the vitamin shot that gives everyone the confidence to move forward. Teach your employees that their performance goal is excellence and giving their best effort in everything.

Aiming for perfection will drain an organization of its confidence and vigor. The goal is excellence! Write it on the office walls, put it as your email footer and repeat it often when you address the organization. Live it. The relentless pursuit of excellence should be part of the fabric of your company.

Embrace failures 

To paraphrase a brilliant sentiment by Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” we shouldn’t fear failure — it is mediocrity we should be afraid of. Failures mean people were trying new things, rather than standing still.

Encourage employees to take risks. Empower them to fail. Foster curiosity and innovation. Embrace the belief that mistakes are how we grow, and growing employees build strong, innovative and dynamic workplaces.

Overcome paralysis 

This technique involves getting the person to clearly decide a specific time when they will “stop working” on a project rather than a stop time. A stop time is far more helpful if they are already struggling to get it started or keep it moving.

In this way, the person moves on to another project, rather than feeling that frustrating, wheel-spinning experience of getting nowhere fast.

Stop time works at home, too. For example, instead of asking my teenage daughter when she will begin her homework, I ask her to set a time when she will stop doing her homework. “I will be done with my homework by 8:00 so I can watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV,” she responds with a big grin on her face.

Be quick to encourage 

As the senior leader, your ability to encourage is essential for a healthy, courageous organization. You are watched closely by your people and are expected to “give heart” (which defines courage) as they pursue routine and difficult objectives. Remember — a courageous, encouraging heart is a talent multiplier!

As we help our employees overcome the fear holding them back at work, we begin to build their energy, confidence and freedom. And you need all three of these qualities flourishing in your people in order for you to operate a successful business.

Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of Fona International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com

Published in Columnist

Can you imagine a world without Oreo cookies? Anyone who has taken one and dipped it into a glass of milk before popping it into his or her mouth to savor the flavor would shudder at the thought of such a scenario.

But when Irene Rosenfeld returned to Kraft Foods in 2006, she found that the company was on verge of delisting the Oreo brand in China.

“We took a U.S. product and jammed it down the throats of the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “We were losing money, and it was a very unattractive proposition. We had a $60 million factory in Beijing, which was sitting empty because sales had not materialized. So we were about to delist the product.”

Rosenfeld and her team at Kraft decided to reach out to people in China before taking such a drastic move. They asked what it would take to make the Oreo brand a success in their country.

“They very quickly told us that the product was too big and too sweet for the Chinese consumer,” Rosenfeld says. “When we allowed our local managers to redesign our product for the local taste and local customs, we had a phenomenal turnaround.”

The Chinese Oreo is smaller and less sweet and actually comes in a green tea flavor. It’s not at all what American consumers want when they open their package of Oreos, but different cultures have different tastes. Rosenfeld knew in that case she needed to adapt to earn the business of the Chinese consumers.

The effort has paid off thanks in part to China’s own Yao Ming, a former star basketball player in the United States.

“Who is the best symbol in China but Yao Ming?” Rosenfeld says. “He’s our spokesman, and we actually go to the local guy. It has been a phenomenal business in China with almost $800 million of the $2 billion business from Oreo worldwide,”

The willingness to adapt played a large part in the move completed last fall to split Kraft into two groups. Kraft Foods Group now holds the company’s North American grocery business, which is led by iconic brands such as Oscar Mayer and Maxwell House.

Kraft Foods Inc. is now Mondelez International Inc. and will focus on high-growth global snacks.

“Our dream for this company is to create delicious moments of joy,” says Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO for Mondelez. “The opportunity for us is to create a $36 billion start-up. It’s an opportunity to take an incredible roster of brands that are household names, brands like Oreo, Ritz, Chips Ahoy, Trident and Cadbury, and put those together.”

 

Getting to the market fast

Rosenfeld does not go so far as to say that the grocery side of the business was holding back snacks. But the two sides did require a different approach, and that created a challenge for leadership.

“North American grocery needs to be managed for cash and for margin,” Rosenfeld says. “There is a big focus there on maintaining the moderate growth but making sure it’s a very cost-focused company.

“Our global snacks business is all about growth. So the focus is on global platforms for each of our brands. The focus is on capabilities and the supply chain and sales, which will drive these products more rapidly around the world.

“The opportunity for us to be able to scale up very quickly if we are properly structured and have the proper communication from one part of the world to another is the main idea for our new company.”

The ability to make smart acquisitions of new brands and make strong connections in emerging markets will go a long way toward determining the ultimate success of Mondelez.

“The rate of consumption in the emerging markets is a fraction of what we see in developed markets,” Rosenfeld says. “So that whole investment thesis behind Mondelez is this idea of a growth company because of our geographic footprint and our category participation. It’s really depending on explosive growth, and we’re growing at a double-digit rate in these emerging parts.”

 

Focusing on health

It’s hard to talk about snacks and the love that people have of them without talking about obesity. Rosenfeld says the problem of people being overweight and out of shape is big in the United States, but it’s also a concern in other parts of the world.

“It’s every bit as challenging in India, and it’s on its way to markets like China,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s an issue we take quite seriously, and we look to address it in a couple of ways.”

The first part is looking at calorie intake. Efforts are ongoing to formulate products in a way that they taste good but can be enjoyed without guilt or risk to your future health and well-being.

“We continue to focus on taking things out like calories and sodium and sugar and replacing them in our products, as well as increasing the level of fiber,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re not pretending chocolate is going to be something other than it is.

“What we’re doing with products like that is to make sure the consumer has portion control. We’re making more of our candy bars scored so you can break off a piece at a time. We have resealable packaging. We’re doing a lot more single-serve products, which is good for price value and consumption.”

As for burning calories, Rosenfeld says she and her company will always do what they can to promote exercise and an active lifestyle for consumers young and old.

“We have been working very actively in partnership with organizations like KaBOOM! and with playgrounds in inner cities in this country and in programs like Healthy Schools in the U.K.,” Rosenfeld says. “We’re helping to educate children about good nutrition and the value of exercise.”

The key to being successful in providing nutritional foods to consumers, whether it be children, college students, young professionals or senior citizens, is easy to understand. But it’s often a lot more difficult to achieve in actual practice.

“Healthier products like Triscuit and Wheat Thins are growing at twice the rate as the base products,” Rosenfeld says. “There’s a clear business opportunity as well as the social responsibility. It’s not a tough sell, but what’s hard is to make sure these products taste delicious. Because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t taste good, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”

 

Staying in touch

From the outside, it seems like it would be a nearly impossible task to manage 100,000 employees. And while Rosenfeld has a proven track record of effective leadership and is regularly named one of the most influential leaders in the world, she agrees that managing that many people is impossible.

“The fact is I can’t manage 100,000 employees,” Rosenfeld says. “What I can do is inspire as many of the leaders of the company, then, in turn, to inspire their teams. It’s a cascading process.

“The single biggest role I play is in communication and talking about where we are going, why we are going there and what it is I need the organization to do. Then I really need the leaders to grab that and translate that mess into what it means for their folks on the ground.”

Rosenfeld spends about two-thirds of her time on the road meeting with employees and assessing whether they have what they need to succeed.

“I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about talent,” Rosenfeld says. “I look at our key roles, and I want to make sure they are operated by our top talent and that we have good career paths for those individuals as well as good succession plans behind them.”

The name change from Kraft to Mondelez has required a restating of what it means to work for this new organization.

“A lot of the work we’re doing right now is creating an employee value proposition and being explicit about what Mondelez can offer you as the prospective employee that you might not get elsewhere,” Rosenfeld says.

Empowering women to grow and succeed is another area of focus for Rosenfeld. Half of her management team is female and a third of her board is women.

“For many companies, they can legitimately say they have no one in the pipeline because they didn’t focus on that,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s a multilayered process, and it has to be a commitment from the top. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made and we continue to talk with peers about what sort of actions we’ve taken that have contributed to our success.”

If you ask Rosenfeld for advice on how to succeed in life and in work, she says to just be yourself.

“If you’re not comfortable in the environment that you’re in, get out of it and do something else,” Rosenfeld says. “We all work too hard at what we do to not be comfortable and to feel like we have to be somebody that we’re not.”

 

 

The Rosenfeld File

Name: Irene Rosenfeld

Title: Chairman and CEO

Company: Mondelez International Inc.

Education and memberships: Rosenfeld holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, an MBA and a doctorate in marketing, all from Cornell University. She is active in a number of industry and community organizations including The Economic Club of Chicago. She also serves on the Grocery Manufacturers Association board of directors and Cornell’s board of trustees.

The path to Mondelez: She began her career in consumer research, later joining General Foods, which itself became part of Kraft Foods. Rosenfeld led the restructuring and turnaround of key businesses in the United States, Canada and Mexico. She served on the team that spearheaded the company's IPO in 2001, and successfully integrated the Nabisco, LU and Cadbury businesses.

Rosenfeld took a short break from Kraft Foods in 2004, serving for two years as chairman and CEO of Frito-Lay. While there, she accelerated growth in better-for-you products and health and wellness offerings.

She returned to Kraft Foods, the predecessor to Mondelez International Inc., in June 2006 as CEO and became chairman in March 2007, following Kraft’s spinoff from Altria Group.

How to reach: Mondelez International Inc., (855) 535-5648 or www.mondelezinternational.com

Published in Chicago

Mike Shumsky’s timing wasn’t the greatest when he joined CiCi’s Pizza as CEO in September 2009. It was right about that time the recession began to pummel the Coppell, Texas-based restaurant chain’s sales.

“We had started to see the effects of the softening economy in different segments of the restaurant industry six to 12 months before that,” says Shumsky, who before joining CiCi’s parent company, CiCi Enterprises LP, held similar executive positions with La Madeleine restaurant group, Sonic restaurants and Johnny Rockets.

“In late 2008 and early 2009, we started to see sales slow down at some of the higher-ticket restaurant companies,” he says. “We thought we’d be a little bit more immune to it at CiCi’s, though, because we’re at a lower price point. But toward the end of ’09, we started to feel the softening of the economy in our own business. That’s when it really started to reach us.”

The recession insinuated itself on CiCi’s and its segment of the restaurant market with a sort of slow-motion, delayed-reaction effect.

“In late 2008, when things started slowing down throughout the economy, all of us in the restaurant industry could sense that, yes, things were starting to change, but we went through an initial period of disbelief,” Shumsky says. “Then there was a period of unfamiliarity; that’s what I’d call the next cycle we went through. Then all of a sudden you started to really see it firsthand and believe it. So you go through these levels of consciousness of where the economy is headed and how it will affect you. That’s what I think a lot of people were trying to figure out.”

Sales began to slow appreciably in late 2009, and that’s when it became clear that CiCi’s and its competitors in the lower-price segment of the restaurant market would not remain immune to the recession’s effects.

“We started to see it in the softening of our top line — our sales numbers, our year-over-year growth numbers,” Shumsky says. “And because we basically have a daily sales cycle in the restaurant business, it started to become evident to us pretty quickly that things were starting to slow on the sales side.”

 

Drill down, do triage

Once the reality of the economic downturn started to settle in, the CiCi’s leadership team took steps to ensure that the data it was receiving from its nearly 600 restaurants in 36 states was timely and accurate. Then it made moves to rein in the company’s growth plans and spending in several areas.

“First, we made sure we had good information and that the results we were getting were reflective of the actual things that were happening in the marketplace,” Shumsky says. “We shored up our communication systems, our internal reporting systems, our financial reporting systems. We converted to more of a daily focus on our business. We started tracking sales daily instead of weekly. We started to drill down deeper into our business.

“The other thing we did was put in conservative stops around the growth plans we had, to make sure we had a good handle on it and that we were growing at a pace that would reflect the new marketplace. We slowed down our people hiring and slowed down some of our growth initiatives.”

Overall, the battening down of the hatches amounted to roughly halving the company’s projected growth rate, and CiCi’s leadership team analyzed its markets to concentrate the slowdown in parts of the country that it deemed riskier in terms of expansion.

“The company had been growing at a rate of roughly 50 stores a year, and we slowed that down to 25 — and that was over time, it wasn’t overnight,” Shumsky says. “In our business, we have a pipeline of real estate and a pipeline of franchisees that would have started a couple years earlier. It takes a number of years to get a franchise approved and to get a piece of real estate approved. So we went back and re-evaluated all of those transactions, and looked at the ones that were high-risk pieces of real estate with the economy changing.

“Those markets that were getting worse — which for us were the Southeast, the Arizona market, the Vegas market, and some markets on the East Coast and in Florida — we looked at those, and where we had development and growth planned in what we considered to be markets that were going to be hit the worst, we went back and re-evaluated them, not only in terms of the franchisees in those market, but also the growth expectations.”

In the company’s core markets where it already had significant penetration and larger, stronger bases of franchisees, it didn’t pull back as much.

“It was kind of a triaging effect,” Shumsky says. “We wanted to make sure we were isolating the more difficult, higher-risk areas of our growth, and then reinvest in those areas that were fundamentally stronger.”

The company used a site analysis tool to determine which geographic areas to invest in and which ones to pull back from.

“We ran the demographic and statistical information through that model to define our top 70 markets in the country, and then broke that down into smaller groups of restaurants,” Shumsky says. “We made sure we were honed in on the quantitative side of our business, both in terms of the financials and in terms of our growth modeling plans. We ran it forwards and backwards, and out of that we identified what markets were at risk and what markets were less risky, and then we worked our way forward from there.”

 

Listen and support

Next, the CiCi’s leadership team “circled the wagons,” as Shumsky labels the process they went through. They went out into the field and talked to as many of the company’s roughly 570 franchisees as they could — Shumsky estimates they were able to talk to about 85 percent of the franchisees in all — to find out what they needed help with in order to improve their restaurants, in terms of both diner experience and profitability. They did this in the form of a “listening tour” — a series of regional meetings in which the company’s franchisees were invited to talk about what they needed from their franchisor company to run their restaurants more effectively.

At these meetings Shumsky and his team learned there were several aspects of the business that the company needed to improve in order to help its franchisees improve their customer service and their bottom lines. These fell roughly into three areas: marketing support, training and service call response time.

“There were a number of things franchisees told us were important to them in terms of how we can support them better from a franchise support and service perspective,” Shumsky says. “From answering a phone quicker to responding quicker to dealing with their business issues quicker, whether it be R&D or manufacturing issues or product issues.”

A recurring theme the company’s leaders heard was that CiCi’s franchisee training program needed to be streamlined.

“We came back with a message that we needed to revitalize and simplify our training program,” Shumsky says. “This is a restaurant business, and if you have an operations manual that is two inches thick, that’s too complicated for franchisees. We received an awful lot of feedback that we needed to revise our training program, which we have now done. We’ve made it much simpler, much more concise, and we’ve gotten rid of some of the fluff that was in it.”

CiCi’s also reorganized its operations group to make it more responsive and supportive toward franchisees.

“For our district managers, which typically are responsible for supporting franchisees — each one is responsible for 25 to 30 stores — we changed their title to brand excellence managers, and we revised their job description to be more business consultants than managers,” Shumsky says. “We wanted them to be more than auditors auditing franchisees’ operations. We started directing them to provide more advice, more counsel, to transfer more business knowledge to franchisees and their operators. So it wasn’t just their job title that we changed. It represents a significant change in the type of people and the skill sets we now require in those positions.”

Another result of the listening tour is that CiCi’s is providing more detailed and tailored marketing support to franchisees.

“We changed the marketing function, because that was one of the key findings of the listening tour,” Shumsky says. “We’ve added a whole field marketing structure that didn’t exist before. So we now have regional marketing managers that work toward helping franchisees on the local issues they have. These regional marketing managers are not involved in national media at all. We still do national media, of course, but all of the local activities that can allow the local restaurant manager to get out in his or her community to help drive the business on a more localized level, we’ve added a lot of marketing resources in that area.”

 

Grow realistically

CiCi’s Pizza had its annual company convention earlier this year. Attendees at the convention included restaurant franchisees, vendors and corporate staff. The event’s themes were “brand renewal” and “the start of something big.”

“We’re starting to feel like we’re turning the corner,” Shumsky says. “First of all, the economy seems to have bottomed out and we’re starting to see some life there. It’s not exactly vibrant, but you get a sense that there are things starting to happen. And secondly, all the things that we’ve done to invest in our business — technology, training, marketing, changing our organization around — they’re starting to have an impact. So we’re optimistic.”

The company has instituted a handful of improvement initiatives for 2012. The keys initiatives revolve around improving restaurant profitability and growing the company in a cautious fashion geared toward the realities of economic projections for the restaurant business over the next few years.

“We’ve put in a target of saving $70,000 a restaurant for our franchisees this year,” Shumsky says. “In other words, we plan to improve profitability by $70,000 per restaurant. And $70,000 a store is a lot of money. We have a number of test projects in place, and from those tests, it’s looking like we can save at least half of that amount very quickly.”

Key components of the company’s restaurant profitability system include a new labor scheduling system, a new food-cost model, a new point-of-sale register system, reformulation of some food products, centralizing the placement of condiments in stores, changing pizza box designs to use less cardboard, and changing the design and layout of the restaurant buffet to reduce the amount of food wasted by diners.

Lastly, CiCi’s has modified its growth plan to fit economic expectations moving forward.

“We’ve come out of this planning process with a new look at our business, and we’ve labeled it sustainable growth,” Shumsky says. “It used to be ‘Grow at all costs’ in the restaurant industry. You know: ‘Let’s just grow; let’s grow 100 stores, 200 stores.’ You heard all of these industry experts out there talking about the growth they were going to achieve, and none of them delivered.

“So our deal now is sustainable growth. Let’s build a fundamentally conservative, realistic growth model that can grow at a rate of 25 or 30 stores a year over the next eight to 10 years, and do an awesome job with it, making sure we have good site selection, good franchisee selection. We call it our QQ strategy — quality franchisees and quality sites. So that’s what we’re going to do.” 

 

The Shumsky File 

Name: Mike Shumsky
Title: CEO
Company: CiCi Enterprises LP

Born: Traverse City, Mich.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, California State University-Fullerton; MBA, Pepperdine University

What’s the most important thing you learned in college that you use today in your work? Financial discipline — I learned that in college. And analyticals — the analytical skills have helped me a lot in my business life.

What was your first job? I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California as a candy maker’s apprentice. I worked at Knott’s for 10 years, through high school and my college undergraduate years, and when I got out of school, they hired me in their accounting department.

What important business lesson did you learn from that job? Persistence. That’s a huge one for me. I’ve gone through lots of turnaround situations, and sometimes you just have to hang in there and stick with it.

Do you have any overriding business philosophy that you use to guide you? Yeah, I do: ‘Good, better best, never let it rest, until the good are better and the better are best.’ That’ll be on my tombstone. Everyone who knows me knows that about me. There’s always an opportunity to get better at what you do.

What traits do you think are most important for a CEO to have in order to be a successful leader? Honesty and integrity. Character. People see what kind of person you are through the things you do.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you? ‘It’s just tacos.’ I’m one of those driven kind of guys, never happy, never satisfied. One day, a manager I was working with at Taco Bell said to me, ‘Mike, it’s just tacos.’ In other words, don’t take everything so seriously. There’s always a way to figure out the problems you’re dealing with. Be patient, think things through, don’t overworry, respect your own judgment, respect the people around you and lighten up a little bit.

Learn more about CiCi Enterprises LP at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cicis
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/VideoCiCisPizza

 

How to reach: CiCi Enterprises LP, (972) 745-4200, www.cicispizza.com

Published in Dallas

Jean Birch finds it quite difficult to pick a favorite item on the menu at IHOP. Actually, that’s not really true. She just has a hard time staying loyal to one item as her favorite when there are so many tasty treats to choose from.

“It switches just about every week,” Birch says. “Last Saturday, I ordered the Cinn-A-Stacks pancake combo. It’s like the inside of the cinnamon roll rubbed all over your pancakes. I can’t get enough of those. Good stuff, man.”

Birch, the president of International House of Pancakes LLC, sees herself as the restaurant chain’s chief cheerleader. The company finished 2010 with 1,504 IHOP locations and expects to add as many as 65 new locations this year, with an additional 330 units planned over the next 19 years.

Birch loves to get out and visit as many restaurants as she can fit into her schedule, but she’s not just there for the pancakes. She wants employees to feel her energy and see her passion for the business. That often takes some effort as many employees find it hard to see past her title.

“People tend to drop more dishes when I’m around,” Birch says. “They’re on their best behavior and they want to make a good impression, but I don’t personally see myself as any different than when I was a bus girl in the restaurant or when I was a manager in the restaurant.”

IHOP is owned by DineEquity Inc., a 17,700-employee company which also owns Applebee’s Restaurants and took in $1.33 billion in 2010 revenue. Before she came to IHOP, Birch recalls those younger days and the visits she had from executives who weren’t there to enjoy a meal or exchange a few laughs with the hired help.

“They were looking for things to be wrong in the restaurant instead of trying to find things that were working well and that we were proud of,” Birch says. “I have plenty of people in my organization that can tell people how to improve their business and what they can do to be better.”

Birch says her job is to break down any barriers that exist between her and her people, establish a rapport with them and get them as excited as she is about being part of the IHOP brand.

 

Show you care

One of the challenges Birch faces in building passion and energy is that IHOP is a franchise operation. Franchises thrive on consistency, and with the wrong approach, that commitment to doing it a particular way can restrain passion and create robots.

It’s up to you take the right approach.

“In a franchise community, you don’t just make a decision and send the word out,” Birch says. “In a franchise community, you want to engage the franchisees and make sure you fully understand their perspective on a particular issue. Enroll them in wanting to solve the problem in a meaningful way. It’s a lot more about vision and understanding what the big brand is all about, collaborating on how to solve particular issues and fundamentally we get where we need to go.”

You need to make sure people understand your brand and the things that you stand for and the vision that guides your business. That is a key to having a successful franchise operation.

“Without strong vision and leadership at the top, franchisees will tend to move in different directions as they see the world from their perspective,” Birch says. “These little decisions, if not tied to a cohesive strategy can get your brand off track very quickly. It becomes a different IHOP in L.A. than you have in Nebraska than you have in Boston, which undermines the strength of the brand overall.”

But just because you have a brand, you don’t have to, nor should you dictate every step and every action that your people take. You need to provide outlets for their skill and creativity to be unleashed and put to use on the job.

“We want their creative energy, but we want it channeled into the areas that are going to do the most good for our business,” Birch says.

Birch takes it upon herself to get out of the office as much as she can to provide opportunities for employees to feel more connected to her and to the brand.

“You have to have a lot of self-awareness,” Birch says. “The biggest thing you can do is listen. Ask an open-ended question and then listen. Tell me about your restaurant. Tell me your story. How did you get started at IHOP? Clearly, those are questions they know the answer to. This isn’t a trick question like, ‘What was your labor percent last week? What market share do you have here?’ This isn’t trying to trick anyone. Just tell me your story about why you’re involved in this business. What’s on your mind? What are you most proud of in your restaurant? You get people talking about those kinds of things and pretty soon, you’re just two people having a conversation.”

Show people that you’re not just there to dig up dirt and find excuses to complain, but to get them even more engaged in what your company is doing. Take a supportive and encouraging tone and you’ll garner a lot more loyalty.

“It’s not as hard as you think,” Birch says. “These folks are relying on myself and the team to do a good job of leading this brand and creating opportunities for them today and tomorrow. I don’t take it lightly.”

 

Put the work in

When you communicate with your people, you need to be aware of how they process information and which modes of communicating work and which ones don’t work. That’s going to be key to establishing the healthy rapport you’re seeking.

“We all have our way that we hear things or like to communicate,” Birch says. “It’s probably far more important that we understand how those who work for us want to hear things and want to communicate. It’s not about my dominant style. It’s more about what that individual who works for me needs. So how do I explain it in a way that makes sense for them?”

It’s a valuable lesson to learn ? the idea that you can’t just think about yourself and your own personal needs when you’re pondering the next step for your business.

“It’s not about the leader’s needs,” Birch says. “It’s about the subordinate’s needs and how they are going to work through this problem.”

You’ve got to put in the work to come up with solution that you and your team can execute. It’s not a solution you’re likely to find sitting behind your desk.

“You go to the people who do the work, the people who are in it every day that get a multitude of perspectives,” Birch says.

“From the dish washer to the franchise owner to the franchise business consultant to the people at the support center. If you talk to the right people, the real issues come to the surface. And the solutions to those issues, although never easy, they’re not as hard as they sound when you’re trying to do everything locked in an office by yourself. The people have the solutions if you can just uncover them and bring them to the surface.”

And when you engage people and show them that you care about their opinions and demonstrate that you need them to succeed and grow your business, you’ll have taken another step toward earning their loyalty.

“As a mid-level leader, I was confident I had all the damn answers,” Birch says. “I was ready to go off and just go do it and make sure everybody followed in line and I was just brilliant. Follow me and off we go. The more I’ve grown as a leader and the higher up I’ve gone, the more I’ve realized you don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t start with all the answers.”

 

Stay in touch

If you find that you’re not getting a lot of ideas from your people, that’s not a good sign for you, for your business or for the two-way flow of communication in your business.

“If I stop getting a lot of good ideas from franchisees, I get a little worried that they are starting to withdraw and distance themselves from the brand overall,” Birch says.

Getting ideas requires more than just a drop-in by you at a distant location away from the corporate office. You need additional personnel who can fill in the gaps and provide a regular outlet for ideas on how to make your business even better.

“We have field-based franchise consultants that work day in, day out with our franchisees,” Birch says. “They are a collector of ideas for us. We have regular meetings with our franchisees, both formal and informal, which is consistently a two-way dialogue. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going. This is what the consumer is involved in. These are the great things on the horizon for our brand that we’re getting ready to go. Then we open it up to, ‘What’s on your mind? What do you think we should be working on? What are some ideas we can save money on?’ We get a tremendous amount of really good input. When you start to do a number of those, you see patterns.”

One thing to keep in mind as you’re implementing methods to gather feedback is that in most companies, you’re not trying to solve matters of national security.

“It’s not like we have to go figure out a nuclear physics problem,” Birch says. “We’re in the restaurant business. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that it’s just that simple. Great food. Great service. Great place. Do that over and over and over again and you’re going to have a pretty good restaurant company.”

Birch says it takes special people to learn to manage their creativity and apply it to a business where they can’t do whatever they want to.

“The biggest challenge in leading IHOP would probably have to be this unique opportunity to be the leader of some really independent-minded entrepreneurs,” Birch says. “They are very involved, very active, very bright individuals that are running their businesses every day and have a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. But they have chosen to align their efforts with a proven brand and proven formula for success, which is what IHOP and franchising is all about.”

You just need to make sure you’re staying in touch, showing your passion and constantly engaging them in the effort to make your brand better. Don’t waste their talents. Find a way to harness them.

“As you look at this compared to other leadership situations, you really have to think through the fact that they are the leaders in their businesses and they are bringing so much value to the table day in and day out,” Birch says. “You can’t just command and control.”

 

The Birch File

Name: Jean Birch

Title: President

Company: International House of Pancakes LLC

Born: Boone, Iowa

Education: Bachelor’s degree, double major in economics and oriental studies, University of Arizona; MBA, Southern Methodist University

Who has had the biggest influence on you? I had a very strong mentor in one of my previous jobs. Aylwin Lewis. I worked for him at Pizza Hut and he was a tremendous mentor and role model. He told me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear. I worked for him for about two and a half years. He mentored me for about 10 years.

It was mid career when I was at Pizza Hut as a district manager. He told me how the organization saw me, how I could be more effective, what I did right, what I did wrong and more importantly, because of the roles he created around me, he stretched me far more and far faster than I ever would have gone on my own.

Birch on looking in the mirror: I think it’s from “Good to Great,” the concept of the mirror in the window. The idea is, when something goes wrong, a good leader should first look in the mirror. What did I do that caused this not to go right? Did I not communicate well? Did I not research the project well enough? Did I not communicate effectively? When things go well, you should look out the window to your team and congratulate them for the great work that they did. That piece of advice has done more for helping me frame the best ways to get the most out of folks than any other piece of advice that I’ve had.

Learn more about IHOP at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IHOP
Twitter: @IHOP
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/IHOP

 

How to reach: International House of Pancakes LLC, (818) 240-6055 or www.ihop.com

Published in Los Angeles