HR experts at Elliot conference share recession-beating strategies

HR experts at Elliot conference share recession-beating strategies

NEW YORK —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Nearly 300 senior executives attended the invitation-only, day-long program at the New York Athletic Club this month. Hosting the human resources-focused event was the Elliot Group, a Tarrytown, N.Y.-based executive search and consulting firm founded by Alice Elliot. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Researcher and consultant Ron Paul, chief executive of Chicago-based Technomic Inc., gave his annual report on the industry to quantify the current economic plight of many restaurant brands. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Only nine restaurant chains out of 500 had a growth rate higher than 20 percent in 2007, versus the usual 15 to 25 companies that have that much of an increase, Paul said. He forecast flat or negative results for most operators in 2008 and 2009. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

“But leaders can continue to grow in any kind of market; you just have to change,” Paul said. “Knowing what to change is the key.” —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Possible strategies to overcome a recession include more franchising, international expansion and efforts to differentiate brands from competitors, such as through catering, more attractive pricing and better customer service, he said. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

“People make the difference,” Paul said. “[The] real key is how you leverage your people, not just your home-office staff, but wait-staff and cooks, to do a better job taking care of the customer.” —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, also uttered the “R word” and said consumers are spending less because of job uncertainty and limited access to the declining values of home equity. Colvin predicted the nation likely wouldn’t rebound from a recession for at least another year or more. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

However, in difficult financial times, the best companies do not react the same way most business do in cutting back on travel and entertainment, advertising, and the training and development of people, he said. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

“The best companies maintain that investment in people, in good times and in bad,” Colvin said. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” also extolled the virtues of looking out for employees and customers in tough times. The fast-talking Cramer gave examples of two different companies. One had been raising prices, hiding problems by adding as many stores as possible and skimping on benefits. The other company was doing the opposite, offering substantial health care benefits to employees, cutting prices, offering value sizes, and increasing goods and service. The first company recently experienced a 52-week low in its stock price while the second company had a 52-week high. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

“These are real life examples: Starbucks [3] and Costco,” Cramer said. “Starbucks did everything I told you not to do, and Costco did everything I said was good to do.” —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

In addition to presenting speakers who assessed the state of the foodservice industry, the conference recognized Jon Luther, chairman and chief executive of Dunkin’ Brands Inc. [4], with its Elliot Mentor Award. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

In accepting the honor, Luther, who has led Dunkin’ Brands since 2003, encouraged his peers to be courageous in challenging times. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

“Leadership requires courage,” Luther said. “It demands responsibility, and in the end it’s always about character and values. You have to give people, no matter who they are, their dignity and never forget those who helped you along the way.” —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

During the conference, public-affairs lawyer and industry advocate Rick Berman, president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C., debated a union issue with Richard Bensinger, founder of the Organizing Institute, a Washington firm that helps train union organizers. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

A bill Congress has considered would allow unions to organize simply by having employees sign cards, rather than hold an election, Berman said. Such a measure would make it easy for union organizers to intimidate workers into signing for something they don’t really want, he said. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

But Bensinger said National Labor Relations Board rules are outdated and unfairly restrict unions from getting their message out to employees. Employees should have the right to make their own informed decisions, he said. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”

Also during the conference, the Elliot Group recognized three human resources and training vice presidents as Motivators of the Year: Tina Burke of Claim Jumper [5] Restaurants; Mike Speck of Qdoba Restaurant Corp., and Kat Cole of Hooters of America [6] Inc. —The restaurant industry is in a recession, but leaders who focus on their employees and customers are more likely to come out ahead when the economy rebounds, according to foodservice veterans who attended the 24th annual Elliot conference, “Lessons in Leadership.”