Women in the Lead: 5 pizza brand leaders talk about having a 'voice at the table'

| by Cherryh Cansler
Women in the Lead: 5 pizza brand leaders talk about having a 'voice at the table'

This week, in case you missed it Thursday, we celebrated International Women's Day with all kinds of events designed to focus on the phenomenal work and contribution half the planet's people make to all of our lives. In the pizza business, the leadership ranks are forever growing richer with women and that's making a substantial difference in many brands' bottom lines and workplace culture.

Recently, sister site, Fast Casual interviewed 25 female leaders at an assortment of brands, including five pizza chains. The responses provided in those discussions show why the pizza world is a much better place with women serving at every level of operations. In fact, five of those profiled in the series are part of the top team of executives at their brands.

"Diversity in thought and interpretation is always useful as it helps counteract 'group think.' And I'm not intending to be disparaging to anyone in this situation, but often people hire people like themselves which can lead to a homogeneous perspective. In my career, I have often been the only woman in the room, and that can make it harder to be heard, and take years to gain the confidence to be able to learn how to navigate the politics of the conference room."  -The Pizza Press Marketing Director Jennifer Moore

The following quick Q-and-A interviews include responses from Donatos Board Chair Jane Grote-Abell, Firenza CMO Stacey Kane, Toppers Social Media and PR Director Colleen Glendinning, The Pizza Press Marketing Director Jennifer Moore and Your Pie Co-founder Natalie French. You have only to read their responses to be thoroughly reassured that this industry is in very good hands. 

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Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
My first job in the restaurant industry was working in my dad's pizza restaurant. We lived behind our first restaurant and I started making pizza at an early age. But my first paying job was at age 11 when I had the opportunity to work during the summers with my grandma and grandpa in our bakery. My siblings and I would spend the summers cracking eggs for the dough for our six restaurants.  
 
Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
I believe that females add value at any level of business because we tend to lead where we stand. Historically we may not have always held the C-level positions in companies, however many women who have come before my generation took a stand and led with grace and resilience regardless of the position they held. I think our industry benefits by having people in leadership roles with a high Emotional Quotient, whether it be a male or female. A high Emotional Quotient in a leadership role, allows a leader to truly demonstrate a Servant Leadership style which in turn empowers the team to be highly engaged.
 
Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A:
The advice that I would give to any leader, I refer [to] as my 4Cs. I had a great opportunity to be part of a family business that sold to the world's largest restaurant company and then buy the company back with my dad four short years later. While I learned many valuable lessons that I talk about in my book, The Missing Piece, my most valuable lessons are summarized with my 4Cs to Success. 

  •   Character: The fiber of your moral code. Recognizing that it is who you are, not what your title is that makes you a leader.
  •   Courage: Always living your true north means having the courage to live your values out loud regardless of your position or    title.
  •   Conviction: Staying true to your purpose and passion. While you are getting to where you are going, always hold strongly to your beliefs and live a life of purpose while you are purposefully living.
  •    Compassion: Live life with a lens of love. Have a deep awareness of oneself and emotional maturity centered on love. Values are not the "soft" stuff in business. 

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A:
I often think about what I would be doing if I didn't grow up in a family business making pizza's and I believe my sole purpose in life is to serve others with love. I would be in the people business serving others, whether it is pizza, or any other industry. Leading is bigger than the product that you sell -- it is the people that you serve. Every piece is important. 

 

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Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
My first job was as a bus girl at a Sushi Bar in Durham, NC. My 14-year-old self was dressed in full kimono, including the shoes. I used to eat gallons of green tea ice cream. 

Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
Is there an industry that couldn't benefit from more female leaders? 

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A:
Invest your time in other people. Mentorship is the single most important thing we can do as leaders. 

Q: If you were not in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A:
I would either be a radio talk show host, a tiny house designer or dog walker. 

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Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
When I was 16 I started working as a team member at Noodles & Company in Menomonee Falls, WI. I've always felt pulled to the restaurant industry. I enjoy the collaboration and teamwork that exists in the restaurant and across a restaurant system.
 
Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
I have been fortunate throughout my career to have strong female role models in the various roles I have held. In the restaurant industry, like in any industry, I think it will always be strongest if you have a variety of viewpoints, experiences and opinions fueling growth and evolution. Any industry that doesn't tap into a rich variety of perspectives will suffer. Women account for half of your restaurant's customers — and in many cases, the mother is still the decision-maker within the household. It's important that women are properly represented in the leadership driving our industry. However, overall diversity is important to continue building a stronger restaurant industry. 
 
Q: What is your advice to women looking to make it in the business?
A:
Be confident in your ideas. People will believe in your ideas if you believe in yourself. Learn how to think like an operator and understand the pressure points that a team faces when executing on those ideas, but don't just limit yourself to learning one discipline within the restaurant industry. Invest in learning all aspects of the businesses. Ask as many questions as you can on your way up and truly understand the ins-and-outs that every person within a restaurant system faces on a daily basis. Don't be afraid to try new things and learn from your failures. This is a very competitive business, so it's vital that you work hard. Those who hustle in the restaurant industry thrive. 
 
Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A:
That's a tough question since I've been in the restaurant business my entire life, and that's really where my passion lies. I love the ever-changing nature of the business and the fact that there is opportunity every day to try out new ideas in order to make people's lives better. I enjoy the competitive nature and fast pace of the industry. I think if I wasn't in the restaurant business, I would gravitate towards a teacher or coach — a profession where I could help inspire others and guide them to learn and grow, but also continually evolve in the way that I approach my audience, engage with them, and find fulfillment in their success.

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Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
I have always loved the restaurant industry, but never worked in a restaurant until I opened my own.  I had a career in advertising and marketing for 15 years, but I was always drawn to the restaurant industry. I ironically didn't have any experience with restaurants since my high school and college jobs were office based, so I had to use my own money to open my own restaurant to have my first restaurant job.  
In 2010, I saw an opportunity to pursue a passion, so I moved west and opened a wine bar in Los Angeles, Vintage Enoteca. It has been long-considered one of the best and most innovative wine bars, having been featured in the New York Times and named one of the Top 100 Wine Lists in the country by Open Table Diners' Choice. Under the same brand umbrella, I opened a retail wine store, Vintage Wine+Market, and ultimately sold that part of the business to a like-minded purchaser who continued the concept. 
 

Q:  Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
Any industry can benefit from more female leaders. Diversity in thought and interpretation is always useful as it helps counteract group think. And I'm not intending to be disparaging to anyone in this situation, but often people hire people like themselves which can lead to a homogeneous perspective. In my career, I have often been the only woman in the room, and that can make it harder to be heard, and take years to gain the confidence to be able to learn how to navigate the politics of the conference room. I'm a fierce defender of the young people on my team and will use these types of opportunities to showcase their accomplishments to help them (female or male) find their voice early on.

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A:
Work hard, be smart, think strategically, and always add value. This is career advice for any industry, but I think the strategic thinking is especially valuable in the restaurant industry where things are so operationally focused, with many potential problems on a daily basis. Forward and creative thinking, research, and data-based recommendations help separate one from the pack.

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A:
Being able to combine my background in big brand marketing, with my experience in the restaurant industry and as a small business owner, makes this job as marketing director for The Pizza Press — an emerging brand with 18 stores open now and 85 units sold —pretty much a dream job. I get to use my experience in an industry that I both know and love. If I weren't doing this I would be cooking elaborate menus at home or working on my passion project — launching my sangria brand, V Sangria, which I conceived at my wine bar.

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Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
[It was] the first Your Pie, which opened in April 2008. Before that, I had never worked in the restaurant industry! 
 
Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
A fresh perspective is always a good thing. Drew (my husband and co-founder of Your Pie) appreciates my perspective on the various issues or decisions within the company. Like anything, looking at something from another angle can provide restaurants or companies with an idea or solution that may never have surfaced. Diversity and varying backgrounds in any business [are] important for a company's ability to act and react appropriately.  

In addition, women account for a high percentage of what determines restaurant choice. We need women in the industry to facilitate the needs and wants of our female customers. At Your Pie, we have so many wonderful women on staff not only in the corporate office, but entrepreneurial female franchisees and employees in our stores. They are working on an operations level every day and investing in making our business and culture what it is.

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A:
My advice to women aiming to join the C-suite would be to look at every challenge or obstacle as an opportunity to grow, no matter how daunting it may seem. I was not trained in the restaurant industry or in business, for that matter, so I have often had moments where I have doubted if I was equipped to meet a challenge. Each time I set the doubts aside and face the challenge, I learn something new about myself and obtain a new skill set at the same time. It truly is the only way to advance in any aspect of life.

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A:
I am actually a licensed veterinarian and own a small art business. So, I would probably be doing more of those things!

Artwork: Willie Lawless

Feature photo: iStock

 


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Health & Nutrition, Hiring and Retention, Human Resources, Marketing / Branding / Promotion



Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com.

wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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