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WFF tracks leadership

Conference elevates women in foodservice


This April marked the 18th year the Women's Foodservice Forum has brought together women to work on the core competencies that will put them on the path to  better pay and greater rewards.

Looking out at the audience at the Women's Foodservice Forum's annual convention, motivational speaker and author Bertice Berry acknowledged all the powerful women in the room – and the increasing number of men in attendance.

"These are the men who get it. And when we take over, we're going to leave a little space for you," she told them sweetly.

Jane Sumner

Jane Sumner, vice president of PepsiCo Foodservice, gives her last speech as chair of the WFF.

Approximately 3,000 people attended this year's event, including 1,000 new members and 400 volunteers. To draw more attendance from foodservice's  executive ranks – 30 percent of members are vice president level or above – the conference added a separate executive track.

In the general session, Berry told the audience, "Your purpose is to lead and to feed." But in order to feed others, she said later in an interview, women need to create new power. "Don't take what's already in the room (the power men already own), bring more to the table."

Her tips for a balanced life are simple: go to bed early (there's nothing on TV anyway) and get up early; don't work on a project until you feel ready; do something every morning for your mind, body and spirit; eat well; don't drink; find your best hours for accomplishing your work; and research a lot.

And live your life in purpose. "The day I decided to stop being the person no one believed could be in first class, people stepped aside to let me go first," Berry said.

In the session named, "Speak Like a CEO," author/consultant Suzanne Bates shared the strategies executives need to practice to develop a compelling speaking style. The key is to practice reaching for objects that are just beyond your reach, she said. So if the CEO slot is your goal, Bate's suggestion is to hone your presentation style by doing more presentations.

"Say yes to speaking," she said. Have a "speech in a drawer," a basic speech that can be adapted to the audience. No CEO is a natural-born speaker, she said, so practice talking about your big ideas in public, be visible and use your speaking to position yourself as an expert in your field.

"Put together your position, your material, your stories," she said. "When you tell a story, they remember you."

Story telling was commented on in a panel later in the afternoon. Diana Wynne, senior vice president of corporate affairs for CBRL Group, advised the group, "Tell your own story or others will and they may not get it right."

Dr. Bertice Berry

Dr. Bertice Berry kicked off the conference with an inspirational message about achieving goals. Her tagline is: “When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”

Claire Babrowski

Claire Babrowski of Toys R Us, left, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo and Kathleen Matthews presented at the executive lunch.

Mary Bentley

WFF President Mary Bentley, left, Roz Mallet, president of Caribou and incoming chairwoman Linda Pharr. Mallet was presented the 2008 Trailblazer Award.

Mary Jo Larson

Entrepreneur panel: Mary Jo Larson, Joy Wallace, Marcia Hales, Ellen Hui and Laren Gartner.

Soldiering through

In a second general session, former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his spin on leadership, gleaned from his years of leading military troops. "Everyone has to understand that their job is a valued part of the mission and if they don't do their job, the work of the organization doesn't get done," he said. But when subordinates are not doing their job, a leader has to make the tough decision. "Good followers know who the bad followers are before leadership does, and the good ones resent the bad ones and leadership for not pushing them out," he said.

One of the more informative sessions was a conversation with two of Fortune magazine's most powerful women in business today, Indra Nooyi, chairwoman and CEO of PepsiCo and Claire Babrowski executive vice president of Toys R Us, and a former McDonald's executive.

Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president global communications and public affairs for Marriott, was the moderator.When asked about being on Fortune's list, Nooyi said, "I wish that list would go away, it draws too much attention to us...and the only place to go is down."

So how does one of the most powerful women in business define power? "Power is when you can change people. It's an incredible privilege and an incredible responsibility...exercise it carefully."

Babrowski defined it as "the ability to influence what's going on around you in small ways and big ways."

The life of a CEO at a well-observed company is an open book, Nooyi said. "Your personal brand is built over time. When you reach the C-suite if your brand's not established by then, it won't ever be," she said. "Who you are follows you because people never forget. Everything you've done becomes magnified when you're CEO."

Babrowski's take is that "your brand is given to you by the people you serve."

It's also important to be good at what you do.

"Have one hip-pocket skill that people come to you for  – have extreme competence in one area," Nooyi said. Her skill is envisioning the future ahead of others, she added. Since companies need to reinvent themselves every five or seven years, understanding what trends will be in play is invaluable.

Both stated that "authenticity" is essential, so people see they're dealing with the real person.

Nooyi said people bring layers into the workplace. In addition to being a CEO, she's a wife, a mom, "an Indian daughter and Indian daugher-in-law, which comes with it's own special challenges," she said. "It's OK to bring your femininity, your motherness into the workplace." To make her point, she said, "I'm going to tell this story one last time and then I'm going to retire it." When her daughter was 12, she called her at work to tell her mom it was her turn to bring chocolate chip cookies to school. Nooyi called the kitchen and asked them to make her several dozen cookies – and to please make them look homemade. When the cookies were delivered, the workers proudly pointed out how they had made them look jagged around the edges and wrapped the plate in Saran Wrap, so no one would ever guess she hadn't made them herself. Her point: It's OK to be human at work, to ask for help when your home and work worlds collide.

Ironically, the session with PepsiCo's CEO – one of the best of the conference – was sponsored by Coca Cola.

On the executive track

An early session on entrepreneurship featured fashion designer Nina McLemore, who told the executive track, "If you want to start a business, first do something really, really hard to prove to yourself you can do something hard."

McLemore's really, really hard task was to climb a mountain. "You can get through anything if you breathe very deeply and just keep putting one foot in front of the other," she said.

As far as how to dress for success, her advice concerning getting men to listen to you: If you dress too sexy, all men will think about is sex; but if you're too dowdy, they don't hear you at all.

The panel for the "Entrepreneur Session: Do you have what it takes," was moderated by Franchise Times Publisher Mary Jo Larson. Panel members were Laren Gartner, founder of Cheeseburger in Paradise; Marcia Hales, co-founder of My Girlfriend's Kitchen; Ellen Hui, a Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits multi-unit franchisee; and Joy Wallace, founder of J.O.Y. Foods, an exclusive supplier of a Pizza Hut line to school districts.

Gartner started her $30 million in sales cheeseburger chain with $7 in the bank and no restaurant experience. She borrowed money from friends and family and "we put a lot of this on credit cards," she said. "Women have ways of finding money. You have to decide what you're going to do for it, what you're going to give up for it."

Her advice for new restaurateurs is to learn to read a P&L. "Don't rely on an accountant to tell you how to run your business. Know your food costs. We run on a percentage and pennies."

And, she said, "change accountants every five years. They get stale and you need a fresh look at the numbers."

Wallace's advice was, "Get approved for a line of equity credit before you need it, cause once you need it, you won't be approved. That's just the way it works."

And as a last little bit of advice: Find the fun in your hard work. For Gartner is was the time she walked into the kitchen after a long day to spot the cook "wearing shorts, flip flops and a snorkel mask to cut the onions."

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