Sanjiv Razdan has spent much of his career in the restaurant industry, beginning as a training manager in India before landing a role at Yum Brands and progressing through various positions around the globe.
He then served for as COO at Applebee’s and Sweetgreen before landing at his current position as president, Americas and India, at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. During a recent interview, Razdan reflected on the opportunities he received throughout this journey.
“What happened is someone put an arm around me and took a chance on me, and as my career developed, my talent development became more formal or structured. But I eventually realized that’s not the way it is everywhere or for everyone,” he said. “I would see people doing the same thing they’ve been doing for 10-to-20 years, and they’re not even being seen or noticed. They get skill-based development, but not mentoring to get ahead in their career. People development in a thoughtful way just didn’t seem to exist.”
Razdan wanted others to have the same experience he had and Covid provided the necessary spark to figure out how. In April 2020, Razdan posted on LinkedIn about his desire to “pay it forward,” and the post received over 30,000 impressions almost immediately.
“There was so much interest. It was overwhelming to see how many people were just as passionate about mentoring. It made me realize that we were onto something,” Razdan said.
Several conversations came from that single post and Razdan began to understand the potential to formalize something as more people expressed their willingness to volunteer their time for mentorship. From those conversations, GLEAM was born. GLEAM, which stands for Global Leadership Enhancement & Mentoring Network, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide mentoring and development to underserved employees in the restaurant and foodservice industries. One of the people Razdan recruited to help was Christine Hasircoglu, senior vice president at Everytable.
“I never worked in an organization that had a well-structured training or development program, which made me want to help as much as I could. I remember early in my career as a young female manager, seeing no one but men at the top and wondering how I could get there. But I never saw a path or any support and that stuck with me throughout my career,” she said. “There is a major gap that exists for women and minority employees who represent most of the industry in the restaurants, but who drop off dramatically as you rise the ranks.”
Closing that gap is one of GLEAM’s main priorities. Less than one-fourth of c-suite executives in the industry are women, while over 70% of servers are, for instance. That gap is even wider among minority employees. It’s a daunting disparity to correct and GLEAM is focused on doing so by providing dedicated mentoring opportunities and leadership development curriculum for foodservice employees, especially frontline employees. Hasircoglu has her master’s degree in teaching and is tapping into that expertise and passion to help develop this curriculum.
Thus far, over 300 people have gone through the GLEAM program, while the program itself has iterated from a one-size-fits-all to three different types of mentoring programs; one geared to industry mentorship, one for executive mentoring, and one for emerging leaders, which is the largest program in the network. The next cohort starts in the fall, and each cohort targets up to 50 mentees. The length and commitment of each cohort varies; for instance the "Get Ready" program targets culinary and hospitality management students and is six months, while the "start strong" program for hourly workers is eight weeks.
“We started with a mentoring program to help people get seats at the table. We very quickly realized mentoring was critical in helping to move people along,” Razdan said. “But if we want to make a meaningful difference, we also have to look at it from a bottom-up perspective. We’re going to attack this from both ends of the spectrum.”
With this approach in mind, GLEAM recruited a board of directors and an advisory board full of industry heavyweights who, like Razdan, simply want to pay it forward. The organization then created relationships with other industry networks –such as the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, the Women’s Foodservice Forum and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation – to ensure their efforts weren’t being duplicated but rather complemented.
The curriculum part is relatively new and has evolved into a Career Advancement Program (CAP). It covers soft skills applicable for an hourly workforce, as well as content that is culturally relevant.
“One of the goals is to make sure facilitators are a member of those underrepresented groups we’re trying to reach,” Hasircoglu said. “There are also lessons in financial literacy, personal branding, critical thinking, teaching them PnL (profit-and-loss) – all of the things to help you move up in your career.”
GLEAM is piloting a CAP program with Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to understand and work to eliminate some of the barriers unique to the restaurant industry. Those challenges include ensuring frontline employees have the support from someone at their company to pursue development training, and making sure they have their shifts covered in doing so. Through the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf partnership, GLEAM tasked managers and general managers to identify rising stars in their cafes to participate in CAP.
“This experience affirmed our hypothesis that employees need the support of the people they’re working for and there is a benefit in such development being offered through a third party,” Hasircoglu said. “It creates a safe space for people to open up and share their personal experiences. It enriches their experiences to have an outsider facilitating this program.”
Armed with this affirmation, GLEAM is aiming to expand its third-party programming to more companies and Razdan notes he has met with several of them. He is motivated by testimonials and progress made thus far but admits it’s still “early days” as the all-volunteer organization continues to understand how to have the most impact.
“We have collected so many personal stories about how this programming has meaningfully changed people’s careers. The end goal is to see someone moving along in their life and career, and we are starting to see that happen and that is making it all worthwhile,” he said.
For Hasircoglu, the goal is a bit more personal.
“I want to see numbers on statistics for women and minorities change in the industry,” she said. “I want the career journey to be easier for people like me. I love this industry so much; I just think it shouldn’t be so hard. When you see people’s lightbulb go off as they’re interacting with our programs, that’s how I know we’re making a difference. That’s powerful.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]