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Q&A: Bloomin’ Brand’s Joseph Kadow looks back

Founding executive is leaving the brand after a 25-year run

Joe_Kadow.jpgJoseph Kadow, left, Bloomin’ Brands chief legal officer, assistant secretary and an executive vice president, is stepping down from the company on July 15. Kadow has had a 25-year career with the Tampa, Fla.-based casual-dining brand operator, which is parent to Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Kitchen. Kelly Lefferts, currently the company’s group vice president, U.S. general counsel and secretary, will be replacing Kadow.

Kadow’s work with Outback Steakhouse started even before he was an employee, as he worked for years as the company’s outside counsel after the founders, Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham, opened the first Outback in 1987.

“The decision to join the company wasn’t as easy as you might think since my legal practice was doing quite well,” Kadow recalled. “However, I had developed a close relationship with Chris and Bob and came to admire many traits — their integrity, their courage in trying new and innovative practices, and how they always put their people first.  All things considered, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Nation’s Restaurant News asked Kadow for a few parting words. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

How has Bloomin’ Brands evolved over the years?

The company has gone from a startup with Outback as the only brand to a $4 billion-plus public company with multiple brands, so there has been a lot of growth and progress. We evolved as the customer and marketplace evolved. I think the challenge for any company is to stay relevant to changes in customer demands while staying true to your founding principles. I think Bloomin’ has done that.

How has the restaurant industry at large changed during your tenure?

I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be a customer. In all segments, the customer has never had more choices, and never have so many restaurants been executing at such a high level, particularly independents.

When I started in the industry, it was actually pretty tough to get capital for a restaurant company — I have been surprised at how much capital has come into the industry.

While technology and data analytics play a huge role in the industry today, full service is still primarily a people business and that I don’t see changing.  In addition, the level of talent in the industry now is better than ever.

What achievements are you most proud of at Bloomin’?

I hope that I have helped maintain the culture of the company and its founding principles and beliefs. A large part of that has been my stewardship of the Managing Partner Program (it is sometimes forgotten how innovative that was when it was introduced in 1988) and helping instill an ownership mentality in our managing partners.

Kelly_Lefferts.jpgPhoto: Kelly Lefferts

I also take great satisfaction in the legal/communications/government relations department we built and that my successor (Lefferts) is an internal promotion who has been with me for 20 years.

In addition to your role with Bloomin’, you also served as the chairman of the National Restaurant Association. (Kadow was elected chair in 2016.) What drew you to this role?

Primarily, the opportunity to advocate for an industry of which I truly am proud to be a part.  I hope I gave people a different perspective on our industry and the role it plays in our economy.

Over two-thirds of the American workforce does not have a four-year college degree. Due to globalization and automation, the traditional paths to a head-of-household income have narrowed considerably for those without higher education. This change is driving the political discussion on issues that directly affect our industry.

Our industry provides jobs for people in different circumstances. We have jobs for students and teenagers; we have jobs for people who need flexible hours; and we have jobs for people who are head of households. I believe the political push to make all jobs head-of-household jobs will actually harm the people legislators are trying to help.

If we try to mandate a job designed for a teenage student into a head-of-household job, the math (profit per employee) doesn’t work. And the result will be an acceleration in automating that job away.

What impact did you have on the industry in your NRA role?

I like to think people who heard me speak in that role felt the pride and love I have for this industry. I also hope I helped give them a new perspective on what is driving the political climate and the issues that affect us.

This has always been an industry that will advance you as fast as your skills and desire allow.

I hope I helped focus on the fact that our industry provides a rapid path to a head-of-household income for those who do not have the benefit of a college degree or advanced training.

We often overlook that we promote thousands of people every year into head-of-household jobs.  An assistant manager of a full-service restaurant makes $50,000 and you can do it before the age of 25, without a college degree and no student debt. A general manager makes $80,000 to well over six-figures and you can do it before the age of 30 without a college degree and no student debt. There are very few industries left that can make this claim.

Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson

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