Women in the Lead: 4 QSR leaders improving the industry

| by Cherryh Cansler
Women in the Lead: 4 QSR leaders improving the industry

In the wake of the March 8 International Women's Day events, it is clear that some progress has been made to address inequities in treatment of the genders in the restaurant business. But there is room for much more, particularly when — according to the 2017 World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report — true global gender parity is more than 200 years away if we continue at our current rate of progress. 

But if some of the accomplishments made, and being made, by female leaders in quick-service are any indication, that progress may well  accelerate because women leaders across the spectrum of QSR brands are, you might say, "burnin' it up" and making huge differences in bottom lines and workplace culture. 

"After many years, I've come to believe that instead of gender differences, there are experience differences. And those varied and different experiences broaden our leadership problem-solving skills which can add to our collective success."                                                                       -White Castle CMO Kim Kelly-Bartley

Recently, sister site, Fast Casual, interviewed 25 female leaders at an assortment of Limited Service brands, including four QSR chains. The responses provided in those discussions show why women leaders are not going anyplace in this business, but straight ahead and up. Just check out these quick Q-and-A interviews with Checkers & Rally's Chief Development Officer and Vice President Jennifer Durham, Cousins Subs President and CEO Christine Specht, Subway President and CEO Suzanne Greco, and White Castle CMO Kim Kelly-Bartley.



Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
 My first job in the restaurant industry was actually here, with Checkers. When I started at Checkers I was an accounting manager, before eventually transitioning to the development side. I never worked in restaurants as a teenager but was certainly familiar with Checkers before starting my role.

Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A: 
I think in general the industry is a bit skewed and there are definitely a lot more men in the restaurant industry. Females are able to create a great balance here because we are able to bring different qualities to the industry. Women have empathy and are great at bringing teams together by coordinating different work styles. Servers are going to have different personalities than chefs and being able to navigate those different personalities is so important in the industry. 

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make it in the business?
A: 
Put your head down and work really hard — there is a lot of opportunity to be had. Then, pop your head back up and look around for things that will challenge you beyond what you are already doing. If you're driven or focused on a specific end goal, you can miss some opportunities along the way. At the start of my career with a background in accounting, I never aspired to get into the development role. Rick approached me about it and opened that door, and it's been an amazing ride ever since. This new opportunity created incredible fulfillment in my professional and personal life —to be able to meet with franchisees and help them live out their dreams. The role is motivating, fulfilling and inspiring. 

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A: 
It's evolved over time. My original aspiration was to be a CFO somewhere, with a strong background in accounting. I thought that's where my career would end. Today I think about how fulfilling it is to do what I do, bringing new franchisees into the system and leading the design, construction and real estate of the new locations. I would love to lead a restaurant concept as a president or CEO one day — which is something I never anticipated from the start. 

 



Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A:
My first job was a cashier at our Cousins Subs location in Germantown, Wisconsin. I just turned 15 and was eager to begin working. It was such a great experience and I firmly believe that everyone should have a job in a restaurant, even if their future is not with the industry. The life skills you learn are irreplaceable.  

Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A:
I think that female leaders can bring a different style of leadership than their male counterparts. By using their innate strengths as a woman, they can be equally as successful. The best women leaders I know get results, build great cultures and have fun doing it.  
 
I also believe everyone needs a role model to help them learn and grow in life. No matter what stage a person may be in their career, having someone to look up to can really make a difference. Female leaders can inspire others and help them to meet their goals. With more female leaders, young girls can see the many possibilities for themselves. 

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A:
The C-suite doesn't happen just because you dream about it. I learned early in my professional career that if I wanted to take the next step in leadership, I would have to plan for it and then ask for it. Even being part of a family business, I needed to identify why I was the right leader for Cousins Subs and prove that to my father. I learned that you must assert yourself because the world does not hand you things just because you think you deserve it. Once a career plan is developed, it needs to be shared with the people that can support you in achieving your goals. Women have to be willing to put in the time, sacrifice and effort necessary to reach their goals, which sometimes is difficult while balancing a family life — making a strong support system critical.

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A.
I love what I do so it's hard to imagine doing anything else, but if I weren't in the restaurant industry I would likely be involved with leadership and development training geared towards helping youth and young adults be successful in their jobs, in relationships and in life. 

 

 
Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A: 
My first paid job was a Subway Sandwich Artist. I still love making that individual creation the customer wants and putting a smile on their face. However, I have been with Subway since age 7, since its inception when my brother Fred DeLuca founded the company in 1965. Before I was able to serve customers I wanted to be involved even though I wasn't old enough to work. My family gave me small tasks in the back of the restaurant such as drying dishes and cutting olives. I learned so much observing and being involved. One of my fondest memories was going with Fred in his VW to get fresh vegetables in New York at Hunts Point Farmers market.  Fred showed me how to identify great quality and how to negotiate prices. I thought it was so much fun. It wasn't until later I realized that the trips to the Farmers Market and meeting with suppliers for meats, cheeses and bread were valuable lessons about the quality value equation and food cost.  My friends thought it was odd that I didn't watch cartoons on Saturday mornings, but in a family owned restaurant you grow up in the kitchen.

Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A: 
I don't believe in quotas but I am a strong advocate of equal opportunity, for everyone.  First and foremost, the leader of a multi-billion dollar enterprise must be a sound business person. But I have no doubt my perspective as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, positively impacts my perspective. I'm proud to be a woman leader in the industry and I look forward to other women joining the ranks. 
 
Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?
A: 
Be yourself and command respect. Put yourself in a place where you can fairly compete for the role you desire. Work for companies that appreciate people for their contribution not their gender, to position yourself for success.  These companies have women on their leadership team. Stay focused on your goals. You can do it.

Q: If you were not in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
A: 
Subway is in my blood, and I have been involved my entire life. It's difficult to imagine what I would do. I have many interests but my first choice has to be an educator and inspire young women to pursue their dreams in business.



Q: What was your first job in the restaurant industry?
A: 
My true introduction to this incredible industry occurred when I got a job at an ad agency coming out of college and my client was a franchisee co-op of a competitor of White Castle! I worked behind the counter with our franchisee (a woman!) and found an appreciation for the importance of a focus on customer service, having operational standards and giving back to community. I quickly found out how great the people were in this industry and I worked with many women franchisees who were especially interested in helping me to see (and seek) more opportunity.  

Q: Why do you think the industry could benefit by having more female leaders?
A: 
After many years, I've come to believe that instead of gender differences, there are experience differences. And those varied and different experiences broaden our leadership problem-solving skills which can add to our collective success. Ultimately, having more female leaders creates a more dynamic mix of experiences and perspectives, which contributes to better decision making. Those who learn to listen to the problems and find solutions can often get the focus off gender or other bias and moved to contributions and execution.  It is then that we can offer to improve the support of others based on our early career years when we might not have had it for ourselves.  

Q: What is your advice to women looking to make the C-suite?  
A: 
Envision a world where both business and home successfully converge through your leadership.  Challenge yourself and others to engage with this diversity so that it is beneficial for our companies, our country and our world cultures through many different perspectives and experience.  Make a difference in the lives of others — our teams, our customers, our business partners and our communities.  Our ongoing role as we achieve leadership positions is to bring balance to equal opportunity once achieved with work/life harmony and not just be advocating for a voice at the boardroom table. Develop teams which are able to execute well when you are not there. Be supportive of others assuming positive intent. Develop networks which help you learn to be flexible of thought and actions.  

Q: If you weren't in the restaurant business, what would you be doing? 
A: I'm teaching hospitality management students at The Ohio State University and love it!  So, perhaps I'd follow that calling though I enjoy what I do so very much because of what I have learned and that — now that I have the experience — I can share it due to the honor of teaching future leaders in hospitality.

Please read all 25 interviews with female leaders across the Limited-Service universe on an earlier longer version of this story on Fast Casual

Artwork created by Willie Lawless

Feature photo: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth, Human Resources, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Social Responsibility



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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