Source: “Most Admired CEO Awards: Brian Poplin, Elior North America.” Charlotte Business Journal. March 30, 2018.
Brian Poplin, President & CEO of Elior North America was selected by the Charlotte Business Journal (CBJ) as a 2018 Most Admired CEO honoree. He was recognized for the tremendous work he has done to position Elior North America as the middle-market culinary leader.
Brian was honored at the awards dinner on March 29 that he attended along with Elior team members and the company’s founder, Mike Bailey. Read below for Brian’s insights on leadership, decision-making and how he’s preparing Elior for the future.
You have been named on for Charlotte’s Most Admired CEOs of 2018. What are the keys to CEOs building a high level of trust in an organization?
I believe that communication, consistency and commitment are the keys to building trust within the organization. These three areas include:
- Communication – Provide regular updates about the company’s performance, process changes and new initiatives. Our philosophy is to share information with all team members at the same time to ensure the integrity of the message. Using a variety of communication mediums to achieve the highest level of engagement gives team members the chance to hear information in a way that resonates with them as individuals.
- Consistency – It is important to share consistent direction and initiatives with the team members on a regular basis. This ensures that team members understand expectations and can work towards achieving organizational goals. From a strategy standpoint, a consistent set of goals and initiatives provides stability and clarity across the organization. Success cannot be achieved if the target is constantly moving.
- Commitment – Leaders must openly and honestly commit to supporting their team members through consistent business practices and strategy. Creating a culture that encourages and rewards based on progress with clear objectives and milestones ensures the team knows that the CEO is “all in” toward helping them reach those goals.
Please tell us what leadership and being a leader means to you.
I am thankful to have the opportunity to work with talented and dedicated team members. These individuals work in a variety of roles and share a commitment to making a difference in people’s lives. I am in awe every day of the work they do My personal belief is that it is a job of a good leader to stay out of the sunlight to let those around them grow in the full sun, which makes this type of recognition very humbling and somewhat embarrassing.
Who is your favorite leader you admire and why?
I have been fortunate in my career that multiple leaders have expressed an interest in helping contribute to my personal and professional growth many of whom I admire greatly, including our founder Michael Bailey. His vision and leadership created a solid foundation to allow Elior North America the ability to become a new, disruptive innovator in the food management industry nearly tn years ago this spring.
Personally, I have great admiration toward former President George W. Bush. He may not have had the broadest appeal and certainly had his shortcomings, much like many of us who are fortunate to lead. However, I always appreciated his resilience and commitment to the leadership of our country under many difficult circumstances.
As a veteran, I believe it is important our country remains united and finds way to come together. President Bush, for me, exemplified that we are all striving to do our best with the talents we possess.
Please explain how you and your organization make tough decisions.
As one of the fastest-growing food-service management companies in America, we face challenging decisions on a regular basis. Elior uses a collaborative approach and encourages our team members to understand the facts of a situation, provide perspectives on our blind spots and share their input to guide our decisions. By bringing people together across the organization, we can more thoughtfully consider the overall impact.
Leadership requires tough decisions to be made, and it is important to understand that all those decisions will not be correct 100% of the time. Finding the right balance of impact vs. outcome is a crucial responsibility of an organizational leader. Knowing that you don’t have all the answers and likely are not the smartest person in the room, requires keen listening skills to evaluate all possible options and then commit to making the best decision in each situation.
Please give some details about one of your top accomplishments of the past year that you are most proud of.
We completed five strategic acquisitions and accelerated to a double-digit organic growth rate. This growth was fueled by our commitment to building a strong corporate culture that delivered culinary innovation, exemplary service and strong local teams to the clients and communities we serve.
In April, we brought together 200 team members for our inaugural FUEL leadership conference to “Focus on our Values, Unite our Team, Engage our Employees and Lead the Industry.” We launced a comprehensive food safety program to ensure our teams have the support they need to serve food safely. And we closed out the year with our partnership with the Taste of the NFL and the Kick Hunger Challenge to increase awareness around hunger in America. We challenged 18,000-plus team members to donate their time, food and money to banks in their local communities. Together, our teams made an incredible impact, and their efforts resulted in over 2.3 million meals being donated to feed the hungry in the cities we serve, including right here in Charlotte.
How is your organization changing or adapting to prepare for the future?
We continually look for opportunities to use technology, operation efficiencies and new techniques. Elior supports and encourages innovation from our members to enhance our service offerings and the guest experience. In 2017, our teams participated in the Life4Challenge, an innovation competition that rewarded teams for new ideas that could improve our service offerings.
The results can be seen here in Charlotte at our Parliament Espresso and Coffee bar site where the team created the Parliament App. This mobile app allows customers to pre-order their items and then get them in-store or by using our unique pickup window along the Romare Bearden Promenade.
What top piece of advice would you share with other CEOs?
The best piece of advice I’ve received that I can share came from one of our team members, Chris Ciatto, several years ago.
After a career-changing role that wasn’t exactly the most glamorous, he helped me realize that opportunities often come from a willingness to accept the assignments that others turn down. Sometimes, the best path to growth and opportunity is the willingness to “say yes when everyone around you says no.” This advice has helped me and others build the courage needed to take sound risks and be willing to take a shot at new opportunities.
Special thanks to the Charlotte Business Journal for recognizing local area CEOs and the work that they do.