Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Succeed in Business Like Ozzy Osbourne

Lollapalooza recently announced Black Sabbath as a headliner at this summer’s music festival. A news program covering the story cut to concert footage of the band playing “Iron Man.” The hard rock and wild electric guitar riffs brought me right back to my early teen years when I tested the patience of my parents and neighbors by turning the speakers of my record player out the windows and blasting Sabbath’s songs. I began to reflect on the longevity of the careers of the band and its founder. Say what you will about the crazed and dazed Ozzy Osbourne but, over 40 years after the inception of Black Sabbath, they are going stronger than ever. In fact they have sold millions of albums and have won just about every music award possible. It stands to reason that such durability is no accident.

It's the kind of durability that we in the catering a hospitality industry crave.  Osbourne and mates are shining examples of building around established systems.  One of the most important tasks in business is creating internal systems that generate predictable results.  Once you have solid systems in place, you can weather any change-over in personnel.  Sabbath has had over 20 musicians join, quit, and return over the years.  Regardless of this "revolving door" model of employee retention, the band's concept, format, and methods have stayed the same.

If rowdy and outlandish hard rockers can instinctively follow these business principles, why do we struggle to do so in hospitality? Our chefs want to cook “their” food rather than menus requested by the client. Or, a cook wants to riff rather than follow recipes. Sales people hunger for big-name galas at the expense of profitable margins. Or they burden the kitchen with impossible demands like scheduling tastings on the busiest weekends. When pressed for time and under pressure, ops people are tempted to cut a corner or two. Worst of all is when owners are afraid to ruffle employees’ feathers by drawing clear lines. Employers justify their failure to formulate protocol by saying “it is a lot of work” or “there’s never enough time” or “the staff won’t buy into a new process.” These are all excuses that hold companies back from reaching and maintaining excellence over the years.

If we cather and hospitality professionals cannot step back and create reliable systems at every level of our companies. we are not likely to experience the sustained success enjoyed by Black Sabbath.  Where will your company be in 40 years?

Rock on!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Swinging for the Fences

Even through the aches and pains of middle age, I still dream of being a Major League baseball player. Like every kid who has ever swung a bat, I imagine a play-by-play announcer describing the classic scenario:

"Seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two down, bases loaded, and the crowd goes wild as Jon Wool comes to the bat...."
Every baseball fan relishes the start of spring with its promise of good things to come.  However, as the legendary Willie Mays once said, “Baseball is a game, yes.  It is also a business.” 

Under all its romance and nostalgia, baseball offers many lessons that apply to the business world.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll note the similarities between the sport’s leadership principals and those of our industry. To build an organization worthy of the Hall of Fame, successful catering teams share the responsibilities of owners, coaches, and players. 

First up: Owners
Baseball team owners and catering company owners both have responsibilities to their internal organizations as well as to their customers.  Internally, owners must:
  • Create a vision and establish a winning culture.  Each team has its own philosophy and culture but they all share the desire to field a winning team.
  • Be bottom line-driven at all times.  Remember Mays' reminder that this is business.  If you want to play ball for a hobby, start a sandlot game.  Likewise, if you just want to cook for your friends, you can save yourself the hassle of getting a caterer's license.
  • Develop numerous avenues for revenue.  Baseball owners focus on attendance, merchandising, and fantasy camps while catering company owners may focus on guest experiences, branded product lines, and amateur cooking classes.
  • Forecast 3-5 years into the future.  Inevitably, players on any team will move on.  Owners must identify and develop stars for the future.
  • Invest wisely.  Owners are responsible for managing finances to grow their assets and protect the organization from unforeseen challenges.
  • Create succession plans.  Who will take the reins when the Owner retires or sells the organization?

In addition to the internal dynamics of running the organization, baseball team owners and catering company owners also play a role in presenting their group to the public.
  • Grow the fan base.  Owners need to understand their market and constantly promote their organizations. 
  • Manage the media.  Public perception is wildly important.  Owners are key when it comes to managing the organization's image in a way that builds good-will and momentum.
  • Attract sponsors.  Identify related organizations within the industry and develop partnerships that will prove mutually beneficial.
Most caterers don’t have a bankroll like the Yankees and few owners are as influential as the late George Steinbrenner, but catering company owners can learn a lot from the front office of baseball teams.  At some point this spring, I’ll visit the batting cages and I’ll swing helplessly at the blinding fastballs that dart from the pitching machine. I may even connect enough times to keep my Major League dreams alive. Then I’ll limp back to the catering sales office and remember I can still hit a home run by applying baseball’s lessons to my own romantic trade.

Next up: Managers and Coaches followed by The Players. Then The Fans will complete the batting order.