The strengths that characterize each year's IFMA Silver Plate winners inevitably vary. What they always have in common are reputations as standard bearers for their segments and careers that demonstrate commitment to their customers, institutions and communities. In this special feature section you'll meet…
Pavel Matustik, a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia, whose turn-it-around track record in school foodservice has earned him a well-deserved reputation as a savvy businessman, a model of fiscal responsibility and a champion of the USDA Commodities program...
Mike Rice, whose career from family farm and restaurant to Michigan State University has put him in charge of the country's largest university dining services program and helped the industry pioneer a new approach to recruiting talent to onsite careers...
Kris Schroeder, a strong clinician with a finely-tuned appreciation for culinary excellence, whose launch of a comprehensive hospital room service program became a model that has influenced operations across the country...
John Holeman, a "people manager" extraordinaire, whose applied principles of participative management have improved the lives, skills and foodservices of generations of offenders in Washington state...and Rick Post, a contract company executive who has made people development the cornerstone of his management philosophy, promoting a business culture based on a sense of employee ownership and the integrity of some of the most prominent brands in onsite foodservice.
Paraphrasing a famous line from early TV, "There are a million stories in the foodservice industry." Turn the page to read about five individuals whose stories stand out from the rest...–
Pavel N. Matustik MA, SFNS
Chief administrative officer
Santa Clarita Valley School Food
Pavel Matustik has always been something of a dreamer. And when he applies that mindset to nuts and bolts operations, he often generates great success.
Back in 1997, for example, as the intellectual architect of the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency, Matustik reimagined Santa Clarita's JPA (the ‘Joint Powers Authority' that combines foodservice operations for five of the districts in the area) which had been bleeding approximately $200,000 annually since its inception in 1989.
Within 18 months, Matustik brought the agency back into the black and was able to pay back the initial investment to its original three members of more than $2,580,000 while still increasing its reserves to 20 percent of expenditures. Now, the agency regularly exceeds its financial goals.
Not bad for a guy once dubbed a "troublemaker" by authorities in Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia when he was growing up.
Back then, Matustik's dream was to escape that regime. His participation in student protest activities had been used in the Communist-controlled university system to bar him from pursuing an advanced degree in the history of theatre, his original field of study. Limited in his choices, he enrolled in hotel/restaurant management courses after graduation and bided his time, secretly planning to salvage his life and find his freedom.
Matustik had also been restricted from traveling outside the country, but was eventually granted permission to join a tour group visiting Communist Cuba with a stopover in Mexico.
Waiting for the right moment in a market in Mexico City, he fled the group and went underground, applying for refugee status with the U.S. embassy, and eventually heading to the U.S.
Four days after he crossed the Mexican border, speaking little-to-no English, Matustik was hired as a banquet-cook in a prominent hotel. After a short time with the hotel, he joined the school foodservice community with a job as production supervisor working for Rick DeBurgh at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Over the next decade, he held positions in several other Southern California districts, including the director's position in Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Matustik now presides over a unique 5school district foodservice joint venture—one that his fiscal management abilities helped him to grow from three districts with 14 schools and 2,000 Average Daily Participation (ADP) to 5 districts with 41 schools and more than 12,000 lunch ADP. He also oversees an equally innovative co-op that manages USDA commodity distribution and processing for 200 California school districts with more than 1 million in lunch ADP.
"When I began in 1993, I committed to turning the agency around within three years. The first thing I did was to build my management team," he says. "Then we changed about 80 percent of the way things had been done." Among the more prominent changes:
- Whittling down the central kitchen staff from 25 to 12 through attrition, and beginning a program to rotate them through various school kitchens for cross training and efficiency;
- Increasing the number of hot menu choices from one to three, and eventually to five per day; limiting cook-chill production to five days per month; and moving to produce and distribute prepackaged foods from the central kitchen;
- Debuting after-school snack programs, expanding breakfast to include all schools and introducing a second chance breakfast program at recess;
- Starting nutritionally sound a la carte options in elementary schools and planning menus with student input;
- Implementing staff training to lower food costs, better analyze P&L statements and encourage more efficient performance.
In an effort to promote the foodservice program to students, parents, and educators across the valley, Matustik launched some innovative marketing efforts. He recruited ten nationally known manufacturers to sponsor creation of colorful delivery truck panels with the healthy nutritionally sound meals motto:
"It's cool 2 eat @ MY school!" The panels are displayed on five delivery trucks that crisscross the Santa Clarita Valley daily.
"We have to strive to make this program successful," says Matustik. "If one of our parents asks his or her child, ‘where do you want to eat today?' my goal is for the child to say, ‘I want to eat at my school cafeteria!'"
Matustik started an annual Kids' Cooking Campaign where six different fourth-grade classes plan a menu, prepare a full meal in the central kitchen and invite family, teachers and administrators to join them in tasting the results of their culinary adventures. According to Matustik, the program has been a real eye-opener for parents.
"We really win them over with this program," says Matustik. "They appreciate the opportunity it presents to their kids and the kids love the hands-on practice."
In September 2005, the agency launched a healthy vending program on all middle school campuses. A few months later, it introduced a self prep fresh pizza concept taking advantage of the available USDA commodities.
"In the future we want to incorporate more signature items, like the pizza, on the menu. It saves us money in the long run and it improves the menu choices for our students," says Matustik. "And giving students choices, all of them are healthful and cost effective, is what we are here to do."
Working with kids has been both an enjoyable and gratifying career for Matustik. "After having come to this country, being genuinely thankful for the opportunities it has presented me with, I felt it was important for me to give back to society, to do something for my new country. Being able to feed kids is a very satisfying thing."
WHAT'S ON MATUSTIK'S PLATE?
Daily Meals Served: 19,000 (including lunch, breakfast and a la carte)
Annual Budget: $8.1 million
Locations: 41 Foodservice Outlets
DRIVING CONSENSUS IN COOPERATIVE VENTURES
Growing the Grassroots. "We initiated an eight member principals' advisory committee that meets quarterly to enhance the flow of information between the agency and the individual schools. the members take back suggestions and information to the principals, who tend to more readily accept it from them than from my memos."
Get the Kids to Buy in. "ten-minute presentations conducted in every classroom acquaint students with the foodservice offerings as well as the staff. And school garden projects let students plant and harvest some of the vegetables they eat at lunch." the Value of the Staff. "It's important to let employees know their true value. We have a number of recognition programs and we've turned ongoing training and professional development into a priority. We have a cafeteria of the month award and an annual employee's recognition banquet. We provide yearly professional development training for all employees. We've also established ServSafe training, cross department training, and a professional stipend program where all employees who achieve SNA Certification are eligible for a 5% stipend."
Customize without Compromise. "With the Wellness policy mandate we had to work with the teachers and principals in each district. When we had the first draft we brought it to the ptA and community meetings. It took about 6 months to develop one policy we could all live with."
The Core Business Gives us Credibility. "Our core business is providing school lunch. We have no competing interests; we've all got the same goals. each member district has a representative on the agency's board of directors. those five people have to agree on policy; it is then my job to implement it."
Director, Auxiliary Services
Michigan State University Food Stores
If you happened to walk by Mike Rice during the annual NACUFS Clark E. DeHaven silent auction, you might hear him discussing the finer details of a bird print with a fellow bidder (and, of course, why it's a good thing to keep bidding–Rice is a co-chair of the annual fund raiser).
In fact, Rice collects antique prints of wildlife and has accumulated so many that he jokes he keeps a local East Lansing framer in business. When he also mentions that he likes to hunt–everything from small bird to big game–many have a difficult time reconciling that pastime with the unassuming, quiet and mild-mannered man discussing the nuances of bird feather coloring. Get to know him better, though, and it's easy to see how hunting fits naturally into his rural Michigan upbringing. Rice grew up hunting pheasant with his father as he walked the fence rows on his uncle's farm.
A foodservice tradition runs in the family as well. Rice's grandfather owned a family style restaurant on US Highway 12 in White Pigeon, MI, a town of 1,000 located just north of the Indiana border and 125 miles east of Chicago. With his mother and uncles also working at the restaurant, Rice decided to look elsewhere for a job when he turned 16, and began his own foodservice career at a local Burger Chef instead.
He was saving up for college, and also took on extra jobs, cleaning up a local Three Rivers beauty shop and working as a custodian at a local church.
That early demonstration of a strong work ethic and a commitment to longer term goals goes a long way to explaining the success Rice achieved in high school, later in college and throughout his long career at Michigan State. There, he has helped build one of the largest and most fully developed foodservice departments in higher education, an achievement that has earned him this year's Silver Plate award in the colleges and universities category.
Committed to Campus Dining
That career began soon after Rice graduated Three Rivers High School, the president of his 1971 graduating class of 225 students. While many of his classmates stayed in the area, Rice moved on to become one of 6,500 to join the freshman class at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing.
Rice was still paying much of his own tuition, and by sophomore year he interviewed for a job as a student cook in Landon Hall, a 250 student residence on the MSU campus. His earlier restaurant experience began to pay dividends, and people noticed his performance. He majored in hospitality at MSU's Hotel, Restaurant & Institutional Management school (now The School of Hospitality Business) and was considering a position with the Holiday Inn Corp. after graduation. That's when Ted Smith, then MSU foodservice coordinator and Silver Plate winner in 1980, convinced Rice that his life should focus on college students, not travelers.
Smith, long an icon in the campus dining community, became a role model for Rice, recruiting him to join the MSU dining services department. They've remained good friends since that decision 32 years ago, and Smith says he's never known "a more generous, talented or capable guy.
"Rice is one of a kind; a person who never says no and will do a favor for anyone who asks," says Smith today. He eagerly capitalized on Rice's talents and willingness to work hard, and points to numerous benefits that accrued to the department over the years as a result.
A Master Builder
As Rice advanced in his career, he demonstrated an unfailing ability to get the job done, When the university decided to centralize its baking operation, consolidating it from 14 units to one, Rice was called upon to manage the process. Three years later, when MSU decided to build its first self-branded food court, Rice was again tapped for the job. The new position also included responsibility for all concession sales in the football, basketball and hockey stadiums, where Rice looked to re-engineer operations, to build a new, more efficient business model.
Instead of paying overtime to university employees to handle the work, he recreated the function as a community fund raiser, bringing in local volunteer groups who worked on commission. This reduced labor costs significantly and also gave those groups a way to help fund their own activities. Today 60 to 70 community groups work the arena concessions—and there's a waiting list of other groups that want to participate.
Rice was promoted to a series of residence hall management positions, each with more responsibility than the one before. As he progressed, he began operating more and more like a hotel general manager, overseeing foodservice, facilities and night operations, taking on responsibility for a centralized cafeteria serving 3,000 students living in six residence halls.
When Smith retired in 1992, it surprised few that Rice was hired to replace him, overseeing what is today the nation's largest university foodservices operation, with $62 million in annual sales. He oversees the operations of MSU's Food Stores/Bakery Commissary, Laundry, Retail Food Services, Concessions and Athletic Catering, two food courts, two 18 hole golf courses, a tennis facility, the Breslin Center all-university arena and the MSU Union. And he remains as successful as ever. Every area of Rice's operation has experienced consistent growth and/or increased revenues annually while Rice has managed to keep residential dining hall increases to only 3% to 4% each year.
If Rice didn't already have enough responsibilities, he also oversees MSU's annual family Labor Day picnic where, for the past 20 years, he has prepared his famous "Garbage Can Dinner" for the 50 to 60 relatives and friends who gather at his summer cottage, located near his hometown. Were you to attend, you'd find him creating the traditional meal from dozens of ingredients contributed by guests—from corn to cabbage—with the spoils of his latest hunting trip. In an odd way, it is a perfect representation of his farm-to-table career, and the path that has taken him from rural Michigan to this year's Silver Plate dais.
– Christine Dozal
WHAT'S ON RICE'S PLATE?
Meal Plan Participation: 15,000 meal plans/yr; 4.5 million meals/year
Foodservice Employees: 800 FTEs
Total Foodservice Sales: $62 million (includes residential cash sales meals, concessions, catering and hotel restaurants)
Dining Options: 14 residential dining units; 8 c-stores; 12 coffee shops; concessions; catering; two food courts; the Kellogg hotel & Conference Center restaurant, bar and catering; golf course snack bars and banquet facility; 500 vending machines.
Until a few years ago, that program lacked an on-site foodservice class. So when the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) education Committee Chair approached dr. Ron Cichy, director and professor of MSU's School of hospitality Business, about starting one, the only question was: who had the experience and knowledge to teach it?
Not surprisingly, Cichy turned directly to Mike Rice. "Mike realizes that preparing our students for the future requires a partnership between the school's professors and the industry," says Cichy. "Mike has a strong foothold in both camps."
Using a modest grant from SFM as startup funding, Rice has for the past five years taught a new, three-credit course on onsite foodservice management for the hospitality Business department. More than 150 students have had their "eyes opened to noncommercial foodservice as a career opportunity," the adjunct professor says today.
Cichy says he tries to avoid teaching his own elective class in the same semester as Rice because "Mike's teaching evaluations are always higher than mine. Comments always include descriptions like, ‘great mentor,' ‘awesome,' ‘enthusiastic.'"
Rice has done such a masterful job with the class that he's one of three MSU faculty members who will visit hong Kong, Macao and mainland China this summer to help inaugurate MSU's new Study Abroad program, "International dimensions of hospitality Business in China."
And those three students hired right out of MSU by Sodexho? It was directly due to a field trip Mike organized for his class in which students toured the foodservice operations at Ford World headquarters in dearborn, managed by Sodexho USA. Later, when they saw Sodexho's booth at MSU's Career expo, they not only recognized the name but had a solid impression of the opportunities available in non-commercial foodservice. A few interviews later, they had started on their own onsite career paths.
Kris Schroeder RD, CD
Director of Nutrition Services
Swedish Medical Center
Who would have thought an all-American tomboy with an undergrad degree in sociology, who loves the outdoors almost as much as she loves cooking, would have helped to pioneer the country's first comprehensive healthcare room service-style program?
If you asked Kris Schroeder, she'd probably laugh and say, "Not me!" But when Allen Caudle, Swedish's previous director of nutrition services and one of Schroeder's foremost mentors posed the question, "why can't hospital food match the quality and availability of that served by hotels with room service?" Schroeder took a deep breath, wrapped her mind around the concept, and set to work making it happen.
The year was 1996. With support from hospital administration, the team—headed by Schroeder—undertook what became an 18-month challenge to create and execute 24-hour a day hotel-style room service. What's more, in the healthcare segment, there were no business models to imitate for a hospital of Swedish's size.
Swedish can legitimately say it has provided just such a baseline model for scores of other hospitals that have added room service programs in the years since. In those years she has welcomed a long list of visiting FSDs from other facilities, all interested to see her approach to serve "what the customer wants, whenever they want it, no matter the day, no matter the time."
Growing into Director
Schroeder stepped into the role of interim director at Swedish almost to the day the roomservice program went live. Her forward thinking project management skills and positive attitude were major factors in the program's subsequent success, though Schroeder would never take that much credit.
Over the past decade, Schroeder has become, in many ways, everything a healthcare foodservice operator strives to be: a strong clinician who understands both people management as well as the culinary side of an operation.
As director, she oversees two acute care hospitals with nearly 900 beds; meal service for patients, staff, and visitors; an extensive catering operation; five retail cafés, two espresso kiosks and a physician's dining room.
"Our philosophy is about giving customer a choice, whether that customers is a patient, staff, or visitor," says Schroeder. Its personalized foodservice offers patients everything from made-to-order omelets to cook-to-order Asian stir-fry to mac-and-cheese and pork chops, and the same customized approach has helped to grow the department's cash operation.
Over the past five years, patient volume has grown 14-16%; department revenue increased 13%; meal production is up 24% in retail areas, and by 6% in the patient area. Areas with popular grab & go items now generate more than $250,000 a month, accounting for 70% of sales.
"It's not a one-person show. It takes a lot of hands," says Schroeder. "Everyone has a role to play, and everyone is valuable."
With a 24/7 operation, Swedish is all about efficiency and cross-training. Any additional labor/food costs are partially offset by the 20% reduction in food waste that occurred with traditional feeding. Orders are routed through a kitchen call center, then computerized so that staff can check for special dietary requirements, modifying the order if necessary after consulting with the patient.
Extensive cross training, a requirement that all hot line cooks have culinary degrees and specialized procedures that enable staff to handle high volume orders in short periods of time have helped Schroeder decrease response time, per order, from an original maximum of 90 minutes to a guaranteed 45 minutes or less.
Making it Work
For Schroeder, "the greatest dividends are in patient satisfaction. That's more important than ever. Our patients represent a very savvy consumer base and they expect both good service and good food."
Recognizing the credibility a true culinarian would bring to an operation, Schroeder hired Executive Chef Eric Eisenberg in December 2004 to take the hospital's food and service to the next level.
Together, Eisenberg and Schroeder have brought leadership to the culinary team, and "credibility" to our foodservice program. One mark of their success: In 2006, Schroeder and Eisenberg entered their Mojito Chicken Cubanos al Espeton served with Manchego Fondue and Savory Mango-Pinto Bean Purée into the National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management's annual Culinary Competition. The two went home with the gold.
Swedish is not without its own operational, financial and marketing challenges. Schroeder has sought to address these on a continuous basis as she has fine-tuned her operations.
For example, the 24-hour room service paradigm presents many challenges for training and managing staff for multiple shifts. Schroeder has responded with a comprehensive shift change model. She underscores the importance of time management with role-playing and staged "relay races" which help the staff to effectively gauge the required time and logistics for delivery in a campus that spans two acres.
She also found that behind-the-scenes employees, who fulfill room service orders, need to become more computer savvy and to learn techniques for providing more polished customer phone service. Thus, employee operators who take phone orders are now trained to use specialize scripts and regularly rehearse their technique for optimum communication.
Another of her make-it-work projects shows how necessity had bred innovation at their operation. One of the hospital's outdated retail cafés was much in need of a face lift. Lack of capital funding did not dissuade Schroeder from re-imaging the space. In September 2006, her team completed a "Trading Spaces" project that gave the café a trendy new look—all for under $2000.
"Ten years ago, Allen Caudle gave me the tools to do the job, then stood back and let me do it," says Schroeder. "I think that was an effective leadership style. I like to give my team the information and the resources they need to do their jobs, then I make sure I don't stand in their way."
WHAT'S ON SHROEDER'S PLATE?
Annual Food & Beverage Sales: $3,898,354 (does not include vending)
No. of Locations: 2 acute care hospitals, 5 retail cafés, 2 espresso kiosks and a physician's dining room.
Meals Served Per Year: 2,465,361
Annual Budget: $11,789,559
Check Average: $3.50 (retail)
WHERE CULINARY MEETS CLINICAL
Restructure to Meet the need. "Our team had long recognized that one of our weak points was the lack of a chef in management structure. We wanted to assure that we were bringing the best food, best concepts, and the best value to our patients and other guests/customers, and I wanted more credible leadership of our culinary staff. Because budget constraints meant another full time management employee couldn't be added, we restructured our organization when a purchasing/production manager retired, replacing that position with one for an executive chef."
Food, nutrition and eating. "We often focus on the nutritional value of the entire plate, which is important, yes. But if a patient doesn't eat the food on that plate because it doesn't look appetizing or it doesn't taste good or they just don't like a particular item, he or she isn't going to benefit from the meal, period. It's important to find a balance between the value of good tasting food and the nutritional makeup of the meal."
integrating the Commercial appeal. "Our program is simply a response to the new consumer mindset. people are smarter. If they demand better food and service in restaurants, why not hospitals or schools or colleges? We use patterned china, logos on the menus, placemats and napkin rings to amp up the perception of the food. Our meals look beautiful, taste great and satisfy both the clinical side as well as the patient's desires."
Consolidated Food Manager
Monroe Correctional Complex
Washington State Department of Corrections
John Holeman's early career followed a track similar to that of many other top foodservice professionals, starting with after high school jobs working in restaurant kitchens, progressing to a chef's position and then to management in a regional chain.
But as a top foodservice operator for Washington State's Department of Corrections, Holeman's later career accomplishments occurred in a distinctly different context than those of other Silver Plate winners.
Many of those achievements are in the areas you'd expect. Effective budget management in an environment where the food cost structure is one of the tightest in the industry. Standardizing and improving food quality for thousands of state offenders. Helping to control the Monroe facility's capital investment requirements by developing a more efficient central production operation, reducing first and long term operating costs.
Many of his programs have gone on to help set standards for other state facilities.
At another level, Holeman's accomplishments over his 24 years with Monroe are also in the field of public service and are social and humanitarian as well as managerial.
In his own department, he is known as a collaborative manager and leader with a reputation for driving consensus, achieving objectives and inspiring other members of his team. His goal has been not only to provide quality foodservices to an often-ignored community, but also to offer many of those individuals solid vocational training, supervisory experience and social skills that they did not have before.
Holeman believes his own greatest contribution has been in the area of developing job training programs and a management culture that improves morale and reduces conflict among a customer base that had previously been known for facility-wide food strikes and protests.
Over the years he has made a difference to hundreds of offenders by providing them with job skills and equipping them to seek legitimate employment opportunities when they need to face the practical challenges of beginning a new and difficult chapter in their lives.
Paying for sneakers
Holeman came from a family of very modest means— "my basketball coach bought me my first pair of sneakers," he recalls today— and began working at age 14 to earn his own spending money for sports equipment and recreational activities. By the time he graduated high school he was looking to build on that early experience and landed a job as a cook at the Terry Avenue Freight House, a popular downtown Seattle steakhouse.
"I was fortunate in that I got to work under a chef named Jim Otto," Holeman remembers. "His background was in the club segment and he took me under his wing, eventually helping me become the sous chef there."
Two years later, Holeman was approached by Sea Galley Stores, Inc., which was looking for an operations manager and was soon to become a fast-growing regional chain. It was a ground floor opportunity and Holeman grabbed it. "In six years, we went from a single unit to a listing on the New York Stock Exchange with 75 restaurants," he says. "I opened many of them myself."
Still, by the time he was in his mid-twenties, the long hours, constant travel and relentless work schedules had taken their toll and Holeman was ready for an alternative "that would give me my life back," he says.
The opportunity came when a friend who worked at the Monroe Correctional Complex told him about a foodservice opening there that included a state employee benefit package, and a 40-hour a week schedule which would give him most weekends off.
"It was not an obvious career choice, but given my situation, that sounded unbelievably good," he remembers.
The new job represented a dramatically different work environment, but also one where Holeman's earlier experience came to be appreciated quickly.
Then, the foodservice staff at Monroe was made up entirely retired military cooks. Holeman was the first not to have that background. He began working with crews of 12 to 15 offenders, teaching them the skills he'd learned in his restaurant startup days.
Soon, "I felt the responsibility to apply what I knew in terms of food preparation," he says. "In those days we worked mostly from armed forces recipe cards, and I knew we could do more without entailing additional costs."
Pushing the envelope
Despite some internal resistance at "pushing the envelope" in this way, Holeman persevered and over time was recognized by both professional staff and the offender community for improving the quality of meals and the procedures used to produce them at the Monroe facilities.
Establishing change was not easy, but there were rewards. "I got a more cooperative work force and the behavior of the offenders began to improve," Holeman says. "People began to notice that we were having an impact."
Among other changes, Holeman sought to open up lines of communication between foodservices and the offender community in order to identify and address food concerns. He established representative groups and began meeting with them monthly.
The input received "helped us to effect statewide change," he says, resulting in cycle menus that changed by season, providing more fruits and vegetables in the summer and heavier comfort foods in the winter. Holeman also shared cost constraint numbers with the groups, working to communicate an understanding that while the institution wanted to work with offenders to improve foodservice, that such efforts require buy-in to the limitations they faced.
From a strategic point of view, "we focused on the long-term offenders," likening it to a philosophy of "promotion from within. If we can get the lifers to buy in to working in the program, and accept some ownership of it, it tends to drive more respect across the community at large.
"We have a dedicated, gifted workforce committed to working together and who have an enormous amount of pride in what they do," says Holeman. "It is not just about the food. We have a responsibility to reduce recidivism where we can. That means improving the work ethic of offenders, providing nutrition education and basic skills like resume writing as well as foodservice training that in some cases may help them find employment.
"This is a rewarding career with a great deal of responsibility and accountability," says Holeman. "There is certainly a lot of potential growth in it. Many of those in management today will be retiring in the next five to ten years, so the advancement potential is going to be there."
WHAT'S ON HOLEMAN'S PLATE?
Responsibilities: Oversees foodservices for five facilities on the Monroe Correctional Complex campus
Annual Budget: $4 million
No. of Employees: 485 (of these, 450 are offenders)
Meals Per Day: 7,500
GAINING EMPLOYEE COMMITMENT
Find the connection. "every person has something he or she cares about. If you can identify this 'connector piece' you can make it the basis of a relationship. If you help them satisfy that interest, you can often get more buy-in to the job at hand."
Pay attention to generational issues. "the new generation pays more attention to quality of life issues than that of the past. You have to demonstrate you are aware of that, helping them obtain flextime schedules, addressing working condition issues they are concerned about. people want immediate feedback today— you need to tell them when they do a good job more often. they are used to instant communication, and want to know you are always available if there are questions to be answered."
Develop a more collaborative management style. "to be a leader today, you need to be less top-down in your style and more lateral line driven. If you want to accomplish change, you need to have employees themselves come forward with ideas for change. You have to create an environment where employees feel they can make a difference and make things happen."
Ceo, Contract Foodservices
Compass North America
Rye Brook, NY
Rick Postiglione—Rick Post as he is known to colleagues— gained his first B&I experience as an assistant manager at an Avon Products corporate cafeteria in New York City in 1977. That job, for a now long-gone contract management firm called Blaikey, Miller and Hines, was a step up and away from the Postiglione family business where he had worked in high school, a small Brooklyn gourmet grocery store called Pastosa Ravioli.
Those two early job opportunities—one in retail food and one in business dining—would prove highly influential on Post's career over the next three decades. It has been a journey that's led him from that modest start to one of the top management positions for global foodservice giant Compass Group.
Today, he oversees more than $5 billion in B&I, Education, Healthcare and Vending contract services in the U.S. It's a business mix that includes many of the best-known sector brands in the foodservice market, including Restaurant Associates, Flik International, Eurest, Canteen Dining and Vending, Chartwells, Morrison Management Specialists and Wolfgang Puck Catering.
Post's recognition with the Silver Plate in the Business and Industry/Foodservice Management category for 2007 is in large part an acknowledgement of the significant role he has played in helping to build the impressive contract services portfolio that Compass operates in the U.S. But it also underscores a role Post has often described in the past with the simple observation that "my job is to grow people." That is a remark that is invariably followed by a reference to several of his own mentors.
"Rudy Flik offered me the opportunity to lead and Gary Green (now CEO of Compass Group-Americas) allowed me to grow. It's my job to do the same thing for others."
Building a culture
Post early on established a reputation as a "go to" manager who got the job done. When international hospitality giant Trust House Forte acquired Blaikie, Miller and Hines a few years later, rolling it into its Gardner Merchant contract services division, Post moved quickly through the organization with a series of promotions to regional and district manager and on to regional vice president.
It was soon after that Post was recruited to join U.K.-based Compass Group, then in the process of building its new North American organization. Post was offered and he accepted an executive position in FLIK International, which Compass had just acquired.
In the years that followed, Post continued to move up, next leading Compass' Eurest team, then managing the integration of multiple business dining brands into its B&I sector division, and finally, into his current role.
Looking back, Post still speaks fondly of the years with FLIK, where he says one of his main lessons was the importance of developing a meaningful business culture as the basis for a service organization. At Compass, which has sought to maintain the individual cultural strengths of its many acquired companies, marketing them as sector-specific brands to satisfy wide ranging client needs, that has proved a valuable lesson.
"One size does not fit all," Post says. "My job is to leverage the strengths of these brands while continuing to nurture their individual cultures. It is not to homogenize any of the cultures that made this a great organization."
Although many organizations stumble when it comes to forming a larger entity from acquired companies, the market has clearly rewarded Compass Group for its success in meeting this challenge. Over the past half dozen years it has consistently led rivals in organic growth and has also spawned many of the most recognized initiatives in contract foodservice.
In business dining, where Post has spent most of his career, Compass has introduced concepts that range from Outtakes (a convenience retailing solution) to its Wolfgang Puck and Dream Steam branded takeout programs. Balanced Choices, a nutrition and wellness program, has helped it introduce customers to the value of more healthful meal choices. Its Eurest division has grown from a British B&I transplant concept into a major U.S. brand.
Compass' acquired companies have also continued to thrive. Restaurant Associates continues to raise the bar in terms of services provided to some of the highest-profile B&I accounts on the East Coast and in serving museum and performing arts venues. FLIK has become one of the country's most prominent contract players in conference center management and as a foodservice provider to private schools, law firms and Wall Street.
In his newest role, Post will also oversee Chartwells and Morrison Management Services, which have achieved similar growth records in the education and healthcare markets.
Developing a sense of ownership
Commenting on his early retail experience, Post observes that "in this business, everyone talks about having a retail mentality, but you don't really understand what that is until you really own something.
"Having a sense of ownership means always looking for where the next sale is going to come from, and knowing that you need that sale to pay your next bill. Over the years, we've tried to focus on that retail mentality and to have it cascade through our organization as our chefs and managers move around the company.
"In this business, if you don't want to assume that sense of ownership, you should be somewhere else."
An internal mentoring program is among a number of corporate programs Post has supported to encourage that sense of ownership among associates. Juan Pacheco, a young protegé Post took under his own wing, moved over time from a kitchen position at FLIK to a supervisory role at a New York account and today manages operations at one of the company's conference centers.
"It gets back to what I said about making it your job to grow people," Post says. If our associates feel they have growth opportunities, we know they will do a great job of satisfying our customers."
WHAT'S ON POST'S PLATE?
Responsibilities: Oversees activities of Compass North America in B&I, education, healthcare, Vending sectors
Sales Volume: $5+ billion of Compass North America's $8.2 billion in annual revenue
No. of Locations: 3700 manual foodservice locations; 17,000 vending locations.
"MY JOB IS TO GROW PEOPLE"
Stay approachable and close to your associates. "I spend 70-80 percent of my time traveling and talking to chefs and managers about the customer experience and the challenges they have in dealing with it. It starts with the unit manager. If you put in the right manager and give him or her the tools to be successful, you will never lose that business. In many ways, client retention is about putting the right person in place and then listening to that person.
Make sure that talented employees have growth opportunities. At Compass, all managers with growth potential are required to develop personal development plans. "You have to balance the need to provide continuity at an account with the need to give employees a chance to move around in the company. We encourage individuals to cross sectors if they want to do so—we do not want them to be in silos where there is nowhere to go."
Give your people the chance to learn from each other. post has championed a program to establish "Centers for excellence"—best practice accounts—across the country that Compass uses to train new people in each region. the CFes provide a place to test new concepts and to launch new programs; they also help the company communicate a consistent approach to service to new employees and give them exposure to top performing operations outside of the location where they will be assigned.