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The Power List
Anoop Mathew, chief financial officer of Upward Projects

How Upward Projects navigates the challenges of COVID-19

CFO Anoop Mathew talks about the Phoenix-based multiconcept operator's diversity council. Meet the innovative, inclusive and industry changing leaders of the 2021 NRN Power List.

Anoop Mathew, chief financial officer of Upward Projects, was chosen for the NRN Power List by CEO Lauren Bailey because of how he ensures the financial health of the organization without sacrificing its culture. Here’s what else Bailey had to say:

Anoop Mathew has positively impacted our company from the moment he stepped foot in the door. While he has a depth of skill in many areas, his ability to connect with others and teach them what he knows is truly inspiring. He has a forward-thinking mindset that always protects the business from a financial standpoint, but never loses sight of protecting what’s most important — our culture. His strategic talent and ability to "clear the noise" was intrinsically valuable to keep our boat rowing in the right direction, particularly during this challenging year. He is a true partner and it is one of my biggest honors to sit beside him as we carve our path for Upward Projects.

Nation’s Restaurant News talked with Anoop Mathew navigating the challenges of 2020 and the importance of over-communicating during times of crisis. Here’s what he had to say:

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during this chaotic year? 

Culture and values matters When Covid-19 disrupted our world, our leadership team came together to ideate and prepare for things to come. With every decision we made, Lauren and the leadership team always considered the impact to our team members first. We persevered, and our team stood by us because Upward Projects had built a deep level of trust with its team over the years — and we were able to ask our team to do the hard things, to face the unknown, in a time of crisis. I learned that we needed to over-communicate; that letters mattered, being visible mattered, being transparent mattered. Not having all the answers, but being authentic and leading with courage mattered.


anoop-matthrew.jpgWhat are you most proud of in terms of company leadership and community impact as you look back at the challenges of 2020?

The tenacity and agility in which the team reacted to the crisis. We had daily leadership calls and each leader leaned into their competency. Through it all, Lauren, continued to inspire us, showing up with courage and conviction. Failure was not an option, negativity had no place and everyone was in perfect alignment — and that cascaded through the organization.

When the country was rocked by the George Floyd protests, I was so proud of the stand that Lauren and Upward Projects took in solidarity with the movement closing our stores for a day. Organically, a diversity council was formed, by our employees, to create awareness within our company and to promote racial justice. We took a stand in a time many stood in the sidelines — and that is a testament to the leadership and culture at Upward Projects  

What does leadership and impact mean to you? 

Leadership is not a static and calls for different actions in different times. Winston Churchill was an amazing leader in a time of war, which requires focus on survival and dealing with imminent threat, but other qualities are needed when we are not at war; focus on strategic priorities and competitive advantage. Leaders need to able to flex between the two scenarios and that was more relevant than ever in this year. Regardless, leaders have to build relationships that create trust, dialogue and transparency. Lastly, our job as leaders is not always to solve the most important problems, but to develop and empower our teams and enable free flow of information.

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