2010 Women’s Foodservice Forum Leadership Conference Highlights

April 15, 2010

It’s difficult to concisely summarize last week’s WFF Conference in Las Vegas, but I’ll try. Suffice it to say that as usual, the event was a shot in the arm for attendees, who learned, relearned, and connected with old and new industry peers while benefiting from the insight of leaders and visionaries attending.

Keynote Speakers


Photo: L. Kerr

Gladys Knight – as an entertainer and restaurateur, the superstar’s story hit on the theme of work-life balance, a frequent WFF topic. How heartening to know that Ms. Knight understands this issue, having grappled with it while on the road with the Pips. In addition to her nontraditional working mom experience, she supported two children in starting restaurant and bakery businesses, both financially and morally, and she dreams of using her family’s farm to teach youngsters about food and life lessons. For me, Ms. Knight’s life lessons hit home more than did the notion of her as a colleague – but I’ll try to get over that mental hump! Her advice: don’t be afraid to stand tall and take on the responsibility of being a leader. And rest assured, Gladys can still belt out a song – she treated us to a performance of “Need to Be” after speaking.

Keith Ferrazzi of Ferrazzi Greenlight spoke on building and sustaining relationships that garner success. His firm’s research shows that your key relationships – lifeline relationships in his lingo – are predictive of your ability to build business relationships. Not surprisingly, the necessary relationship ingredients he mentioned included intimacy, generosity, vulnerability, and caring. His counsel: to get people to care about you, just care about them. I find I can often apply WFF speaker advice to both work and personal relationships, and this case is no different. To overcome the intimidation of networking, Ferrazzi suggests a simple approach of asking you can help others rather than the reverse.

Gloria Santona, EVP and General Secretary of McDonald’s Corporation, inspired us with her experiences as a young Hispanic woman embarking on her legal career when this was far from a common career option. She noted that the current ratio of women to men in the workforce is much higher than it is in boardrooms, a fact that shapes much of the WFF mission. As she recounted her experiences at McDonald’s, I couldn’t help but think that if all companies provided such opportunities for inclusion, our workplaces would be incredible. Santona defines success as creating opportunities for people of different backgrounds, which was a good backdrop for the Top-to-Top Summit. Additional advice: Focus your career on what’s most important to you; treat failure as a developmental opportunity, develop the leader in you; and you can’t do it alone.

Top-to-Top Summit Highlights

Dr. Saj-Nicole Joni spoke on leadership, using the example of Edward Liddy and AIG bonus controversy. Participant wisdom: Liddy’s desire to do right by AIG employees should have been a backseat to the company’s bankruptcy, the taxpayer bailout, and public outcry that would clearly follow. Moreover, the lack of a diverse group of advisors hurt.

Joni then moderated an executive panel including the following members and their advice on leadership:

P. Liewand, M. Rich, D. Madsen, D. Sweeney

Photo: L. Kerr

Paul Leinwand, VP Global Consumer, Media and Digital Practice for Booz & Co.: Find ways to enable people to take risks.

Mindy Rich, Vice Chairman Rich Products, Inc.: Don’t be afraid to find the confidence to take risks ourselves.

Drew Madsen, President and COO, Darden Restaurants: Encourage everyone to think about leading people, not just businesses. The difference between good and great is often getting the effort from the front line in this special business.

Dawn Sweeney, President & CEO, National Restaurant Association: Strike the balance necessary in fighting battles, as in the case of the recent health care lobbying efforts.

Changing of the WFF Guard

WFF leadership continues to evolve, and a high point this year was Fritzi Woods’ debut as WFF President and CEO. Having listened to Fritzi on many a WFF panel, I know this is as extremely good news for the organization and its members. Here’s to your stewardship, Fritzi – I look forward to it. Furthermore, outgoing Interim President Linda Pharr really gets to leave now, having done an extra tour of duty – which interfered with her retirement, no less – as the WFF worked to fill a management void. How generous of Linda.

We welcomed incoming WFF Chair Maureen Hurley, a consistent image of leadership during my WFF membership. She, as well as outgoing chair Mary O’ Broin, inspired us by sharing their stories, lessons, and goals, both past and future. Congratulations best wishes, ladies.

Fritzi took the opportunity for an informal panel discussion with the following heavy hitters who are always so giving of their time and advice:

Lorna Donatone, COO & Education Market President, Sodexo/WFF Treasurer: Raise your hand – don’t sit back and assume others know your goals and capabilities.

Carin Stutz, SVP, Strategic Operations & COO, Global Business Development, Brinker International/WFF Secretary: take the high road. Add value to a conversation and don’t bring it down – imagine being in others’ shoes when you don’t agree with them.

Maureen Hurley, EVP & Chief Administrative Officer, Rich Products Corporation/WFF Chair: Have confidence in yourself, quit thinking you might be “found out” and set your mind to your goals.

The announcement that Brinker International has donated office space in its Dallas headquarters to the WFF was great news. This gift was due to the generosity of ever-supportive Carin Stutz and Doug Brooks, Chairman and CEO of Brinker.

WFF Awards

There has been much industry coverage of these award recipients. What stands out to me is the extent of their accomplishments, humility, and generosity – it’s truly awe-inspiring. Congratulations to Mindy Rich, Vice-Chairman, Rich Products; Joyce Mazero, Partner, Haynes and Boone; Cindy Novak, President, Communication Leadership Network; Doug Barber, EVP and COO, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store; and Sarah Palisi Chapin, CEO, Hail Merry Snacks. Congratulations to Kraft Foodservice, recipient of the one award that goes to a company rather than an individual, with Tom Sampson, President North American Foodservice, accepting.

While it was a new setting, recognizing some new leaders, the 2010 WFF leadership conference was true to form in continuing to offer top-notch programming and educational opportunities, while fostering new and old connections among industry peers. This year’s tone was one of inspiration and hope to prepare us for the more prosperous times to come for the industry. Won’t those be a welcome change!


3 Responses to “2010 Women’s Foodservice Forum Leadership Conference Highlights”

  1. Leslie M. Says:

    Great write up Leslie!

    Leslie M.

    and thanx again for dinner and your attempts to keep me awake during Cirque de Solei ?sp

    keep in touch!

  2. Katie Chism Says:

    Leslie – Thanks for the great re-cap and PR on an event that we hope left all as energized as it did for those of us on staff who had the fun planning it! Thanks for your continued support of our mission and events! 🙂

  3. Peerliskili Says:


    Really glad to get into this forum
    It’s what I am looking for.
    Hope to know more member here.

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