The “survival of the fittest” concept really resonated with Anand Gala – and many of his peers – when the recession hit the food service industry, which operates with thin margins to begin with. Providing the best service, suddenly, was more important than ever.
The challenging times required keen leadership from not just the president and CEO, but everyone at Gala Corp. – a privately-owned hospitality and food service company with a portfolio including Applebee’s, Del Taco and Famous Dave’s BBQ.
So the company created Gala University, a leadership development program where management candidates learn skills like innovative problem-solving. Basically, Gala invests to keep employees at the top of their game so they’ll be prepared and empowered to keep the company at the top of its game.
Because of this entrepreneurial leadership, Smart Business, ThinkASG, IBM and Union Bank named Gala one of the 2011 Smart Leader honorees. He discussed how he survives tough times by focusing on human capital and giving back to the community.
Give an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
The most recent example is the current economic recession that we are still dealing with. From a high point of 2007, we began feeling the hit – and this (food service/restaurant) is in an industry that has very thin margins to begin with. The impact of the recession was that it forced or accelerated changes that were necessary for survival.
The result of these changes – at the speed at which we made them – was that we were able to maintain 90 percent of our EBITDA from 2007 in 2009 and 2010. It forced us to become better operators, managers and leaders. It also prompted us to have a laser focus on our Human Capital – making sure that it was not just the top of the company that provided leadership but that each level, including the restaurant managers, were providing clear leadership and ensuring that we had the best people in place who were committed and passionate about service and hospitality. It was important that we were providing the training and development to keep everyone at the top of their game.
As a result of our efforts, we (have been) experiencing very strong growth in sales during these past nine months and are seeing better flow through to the bottom line.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
I prefer “entrepreneurial leader,” as we are willing to try many different things, so long as we have thought them through and they make sense. I believe that if you can clearly define the problem and engage the leadership around you, each will come up with different solutions. Many times, a solution that comes from outside your industry or outside of the department that is struggling delivers the best results because you’re getting a fresh perspective. I have found that there are no limitations to how to solve a problem.
We recently created a leadership development program called Gala University, where we teach management candidates to seek alternative ways to think of solutions to problems. The focus on leadership development as a strategic advantage is how we are acting more entrepreneurial in our leadership, as this is not common in our industry.
How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
I feel a great sense of commitment to this topic. We operate restaurants that are very much a part of our local communities and neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, Applebee’s is known as the “Neighborhood Grill and Bar,” and we try to bring this to life each and every single day. We do this through significant community outreach, whether it is supporting classroom and reading programs for our local schools or helping their various sports and activities groups raise funds for a trip or new uniforms.
We think that there is a great deal that we can do to thank our guests and neighbors – our community – for the patronage that they provide us. I am particularly proud of the most recent events that we did during Veteran’s Day, when we honored all active and retired military with a free meal and collected messages of thanks for those in uniform. With those messages we created a wall collage and now display it proudly for all to see each and every day.
Additionally, while our communities and many others are still struggling, we assisted the Toys for Tots program and became official collections centers for toy drops and helped provide a great holiday for so many children in our local communities.
And last, but not least, we helped raise thousands of dollars in donations – that we matched – for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation during the recent grand opening of our Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant located in Orange.
How to reach: Gala Corp., www.galacorp.com