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The Power List
Molly Cooper, area operating partner for Panera

Panera area operating partner on coaching employees

Molly Cooper shares how the fast-casual brand focuses on promoting from within. Meet the innovative, inclusive and industry changing leaders of the 2021 NRN Power List.

Molly Cooper, area operating partner for Panera, was chosen for the NRN Power List by CEO Niren Chaudhary for her resilience and tenacity as well as her ability to develop and promote people on her teams. Here’s what else Chaudhary had to say:

When I reflect on the values that have carried Panera through this year — resilience, tenacity, innovation, care, and compassion — Molly is a true example of all of them.  Part of our Panera family for more than 20 years, Molly is a savvy and dedicated leader and coach who can quickly adapt to change, while keeping her team focused on what matters most, creating a warm environment for her team and amazing eating experiences for our guests.  Her collaborative and competitive spirit drives her team to be successful, celebrating each goal achieved while continuing to raise the bar.  

One of the most impressive aspects of Molly’s leadership is that 100% of her management team has been promoted from within, reflecting her undeniable passion for coaching, developing and mentoring her team. Molly exemplifies integrity, and believes in being a servant leader. She surrounds herself with honest and caring people and has a unique and special ability to identify and grow talent. Her commitment to her teams and to our Panera family are some of the reasons why Panera is emerging stronger as we look forward to 2021.

Nation’s Restaurant News talked with Molly Cooper about navigating the challenges of 2020 and helping employees reach their full potential. Here’s what she had to say: 

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

I’ve learned that working together through this ever-changing environment has made us emerge even stronger as a team — and that together, we can do amazing things, especially when we focus on care and compassion for our associates and guests. Through this crisis, when we think like business owners and focus on being resilient leaders, embracing and adapting to change through creativity and tenacity — we’ve quickly been able to switch gears and continue providing an outstanding experience for our guests.


What are you most proud of in terms of company leadership and community impact as you look back at the challenges of 2020? 

I’ve seen such a focus on loving our associates from all levels of leadership.  We’ve instilled traditions of recognition, from our Golden Bread Bowl peer-to-peer award for collaboration, to applauding outstanding GM’s and recognition from Niren directly.  There’s also been a commitment to staying connected and focusing on sharing and learning through things like town halls and other ways of staying connected virtually.  We’ve also stayed true to our mission to make great eating experiences accessible to all — from innovations like contactless delivery, curbside and Panera Grocery to our community partnership with Feeding America and our Meals for Heroes programs around the country.

What does leadership impact mean to you? 

I really believe in the potential of each and every associate who comes into Panera. This is truly a place where you can turn a job into a career, if you’re willing to learn — and so I see a big part of my role as a leader really as a teacher and coach. I’m proud of everyone on my team who has grown alongside me.

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TAGS: Fast Casual
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