Ken Pendery Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007
Ken Pendery finds the greatest challenge in business is knowing what to do when times get tough. Yet, the president and CEO of First Watch Restaurants Inc. says staying consistent, producing a quality product and developing quality people will push you through any challenge. Pendery says it’s easy to panic in tough times and try to be all things to all people, but that’s not the approach he takes at First Watch, which, systemwide, employs about 2,000 full- and part-time workers at more than 76 restaurants in 11 states and posted 2006 revenue of more than $70 million. You have to be flexible, he says, but you also have to make sure you either stick to your guns the best you can or determine that your business model is broken and retool it. Smart Business spoke with Pendery about how to develop a trusting work environment and why making no decision is worse than making the wrong decision.

Practice what you preach. It is going to take some actions over time to be convincing. You do your best to present a consistent message, and I tell my people, ‘What you see is what you get.’

I have no hidden agenda. You can ask a question any time, and I am as forthright and clear as I possibly can be. If I’m not clear enough and you have questions, ask. I’m telling you all that I know.

I ask others to do the same. Lay it on the line, and don’t have any hidden agendas, but there’s no question that kind of thing is developed over time.

It’s something that a successful company has to have as part of its culture. Either it is a trusting environment or it is not. People throughout an organization see it and feel it over time. Just because one says it is, doesn’t mean it is so. They need to see it practiced and see it in actions.

It is part of the trust factor and letting people know proper or effective priorities. I do it. I have two kids in college. I try to set the example of following them to their baseball games or following them in their graduation or in some of their events. I set the pace and set the example, and you expect others to do the same thing.

On the same token, you’d like to think if you are the first one in the office or the last one out of the office or the first one in to work, then you set the example of what you wear, what you say and how you say it.

Stay involved in the community. You get your management that is involved in runs for the cancer society or multiple sclerosis; if you have a management person who is a runner him- or herself, and they are doing that sort of thing, the company gets behind it.

We usually don’t just pick one randomly. We do it frequently behind our employee or management base that happens to be involved at the same time. If they come to us or want us involved, we go after it from that standpoint.

You get a lot of requests about someone having a beach run for someone you’ve never heard of. Someone is sending out, ‘Dear business owner, please send us $5 or $500 to support this.’ We don’t respond to those very often, if at all, because it is not employee-based or something that we know anything about.

You get a lot of larger requests, and it crosses your mind sometimes. You feel like you aren’t being as kind or generous as you’d like to be because sometimes it’s not even a financial thing, it’s just you don’t know anything about it.

Don’t have meetings for the sake of meeting. We meet probably monthly, and the smaller executive team meets every week or every other week. I put out an agenda for us that people know when the meeting is in advance and, if they have a topic, they get it on the agenda. It is open input. We get the feedback, communicate, and that’s how we get on the same page.

Sometimes, you can get to the point where you feel like you are meeting just to have a meeting because it is regularly scheduled. A lot of times, if we get a few days before the meeting and we don’t feel that we have enough of an agenda, we will cancel the meeting. We’ll have lunch and cover a couple of quick topics so we don’t waste each other’s time.

Act quickly to fix mistakes. We all make wrong decisions. Making no decision is the worse thing.

Recognizing that the idea, plan or decision didn’t work and going back and correcting it is more important than getting hung up on right and wrong decisions. I try to get back quickly to recognizing the success of our decision-making and, if we blew it, then fix it.

Don’t fall in love with written communication.

There is room for miscommunication or just the message not being in the right tone or tenor. I will always go for oral and try not to have it be via e-mail, memo or letter. If you have to, that’s the last resort. I will always go for picking up the phone or face to face as the No. 1 priority. The more intense topic, it’s almost a demand that we do it face to face.

Operate under a team approach. I happen to operate — and I test this simply by asking the management team if my assumption is correct — under a team approach. We frequently have meetings or discussions. I travel to restaurants and solicit input as much as possible. Infrequently, people look at me and say, ‘What is the final decision?’ Usually, the decision is made because all the quality input or by consensus. Every great now and then, it’s viewed as, ‘We are waiting for Ken’s stamp.’

HOW TO REACH: First Watch Restaurants Inc., (941) 907-9800 or