Could you please walk me through the journey you have had and your current role and responsibility?

My penchant for retail started when I was pursuing my degree in California during the 1980s. Thereon, I started gaining experience in the field of manufacturing and distribution while working with some of the reputed, public, and private organizations. In 1999, I went to work in the restaurant industry and set to work with one of the oldest, family-owned global specialty coffee retailers. When I joined, we had about 24 restaurants. And by the time I left the company after eight years, we were close to opening 250 restaurants.

It was the time when I had a clear understanding of the way the restaurant industry operates, and the importance of culture. Following my work experience with a couple of other companies, I finally joined hands with Villa Restaurant Group. Currently, as Vice President of Talent and Culture Development at VRG, I am solely responsible for everything human resources, training benefits, recruitment, and performance management, and most important culture and Team Member engagement.

What would you say are some of the challenges you have witnessed in the leadership development space, and how do you align yourselves accordingly?

Covid-19 has been an eye-opener for every business vertical, essentially pushing/accelerating business progression into recession. Prior to COVID, we had about 225 restaurants and an almost 3000-member strong team in 38 states. Presently, we have 85 restaurants with 1500 members throughout 11 states in the U.S. It has changed our lives both personally and professionally, altering the way Guests engage with us and us with the Guests.

Despite being at the epicenter of the storm that the pandemic unleashed on the restaurant industry, it has been quick to bounce back on its feet all around the world. Our biggest challenge as leaders is finding the right talent pool and being able to develop their potential to groom them to take up higher responsibilities in the restaurant chain space.

We are coming out of the pandemic phase by developing a sense of empathy for the tough time our team members have been going through. On the one hand, our leaders focus on building the connection between the needs of our management and employees. As experienced business leaders, we can therefore help develop and grow employees within their current job roles and push their limits to achieve successive positions.

On the other hand, our organization focuses on guests and perceives business from their safety standpoint, making sure that they feel comfortable coming to our restaurants. Besides, we bend over backward to make our team members feel safe and good as far as they are working and also ensure that they do the same in taking care of our guests. As a result, our leaders can spread a sense of contentment around the restaurant space in terms of attaining productive employees and exceptional guest experience.

How do you see digitalization and technology in the restaurant value chain having an impact on your leadership development?

Riding on the huge growth in cloud and mobile technology, the restaurant chain landscape has seen significant expansion and diversification over the past five years. The global adoption of consumer tech further made businesses embrace the value of technology on almost all levels of the stack in terms of both guest experience and operations.

While these powerful dynamics are emerging to shape consumer behaviors, we never take a breath to leverage those trends. Undoubtedly, digitization has created a positive impact on our organization. From the HR/Training side, rather than traditional classroom-type training, we are readily adopting technology in training our employees as well as staff using learning materials on their personal devices, laptops, and computers, either remotely off-site or on-site across the restaurant space. We also use iPads to support our team members in better understanding the recipes and catering to guest service requirements and restaurant operations.

What, according to you, is the secret sauce of being a good leader?

I think the first and foremost success recipe for being a well-established leader is relationships, be it with team members, vendors, or strategic partners. Your social relationships help you grow and develop as a leader. Down the road, this would allow an organization to understand the employees and their individual needs. On top of that, a leader's focus must also go into improving the lives of entry-level persons who are hourly paid and have the intent to develop them for the higher-order roles.

Is there any project or initiative you are currently overseeing regarding leadership development that you would want to share?

As far as leadership development is concerned, we have a learning management system based on interactive video content to help our hourly team members get trained on their roles. Our leaders developed those classes with a long line of learning categories such as recipe management, dough management, restaurant operations, safety, harassment, and discipline. This initiative of ours was beneficial and constructive in developing the work ethics of our staff and management team.

What would be the single piece of advice you could impart to an aspiring professional in your field?

My advice is to do the right thing rather than doing the thing right. You have to be nimble. It's not necessarily just ticking all the boxes to get something done. Do not focus on the process, but focusing more on doing the right thing is substantial. Every situation is different and you need to develop your team to make educated decisions. That's how you can take care of your team members, and that's how you need to look at your organization. By doing so, you will be able to know what you are doing is working towards a specific desired goal, a destiny.