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Corporate Growing Pains and Gains


Passing the torch, transitioning, growing the brand, turning a page, writing a new chapter, continuing the vision....the company I work for is celebrating their 25th year in business. It's been a year of changes. We have a new CEO. The last founder has retired. We have a newly revamped HR department along with a new HR guru. We have a gaggle of new board members and many new managers. I just finished getting through the first year in a newly renovated dining facility. Lots to celebrate. I was recognized as one of the company's OGs. I was the fourth hourly employee hired when the company began and worked my way up that ladder to my present exalted management state. We've gone from a little company with a handful of clients and quirky business practices (home office was a broom closet for the first year) to 70+ accounts spread out across the country and a more conventional corporate culture. At the anniversary celebration, they gave me a medal in a box, which serves no purpose that I can figure. A symbol of my loyalty I guess, but I'd chalk up my longevity with the company more to comfort and inertia. I like where I work and see no reason to go elsewhere other than for a change of scenery and a larger salary. How large? I don't know what my price would be until it was in front of me. I'm not a greedy man - something that would make me and mine comfortable would likely do. Still, I'll probably stick with where I am until I get too old to stand all day in a kitchen for 10-12 hours expediting and cooking food, managing the krew, and kibitzing with the customers; in this case, college students who are eternally exasperating, entertaining and rewarding to be around.

The company also gave me this gift book full of appliances, gadgets, trinkets and such to pick from as a thank you for my service. The thing was like a SkyMall magazine. I flipped through it for days, trying to find something I liked. Finally settled on a pair of head phones even though I already have a couple pair. The ones I have are cheap, go anywhere sets that I use with my ipod. The ones I picked were a couple hundred dollars and literally something I would never, ever spend that kind of money on even though I love me some high end audio equipment. So this gift was a good thing however I would have appreciated just getting a cash bonus, but I get the logic. I would have spent the cash on practical stuff for the house or the kid, etc. Not on myself. The SkyMall idea was a good trick.

We had a 25th anniversary celebration dinner for the managers at a nice venue with an open bar and hors doevres. Everything was fine and about what you'd expect but the caterer was definitely not up to our usual corporate standards. The staff were all in mis-matched uniforms and looked like they'd been sent here by a temp agency based out of a homeless shelter. The food was beyond bad and embarrassing especially since this was a celebration for a Contract Food Management company. Whoever was on the catering committee was going to have some explaining to do. Much as I enjoyed being served and not having to cook the meal; had I known what sort of horrible shit was going to be served I would have gladly given up my seat at a table in order to cook food befitting the occasion and the client. The worst meal I've had in a while and it's at my company's 25th anniversary dinner. Oh, the irony. Being polite midwesterners, most of us have held our tongues but I'm sure the upper reaches, particularly the new CEO, have let their displeasure be known quietly, but firmly. That said, this dinner won't be forgotten amongst the chefs who were there and it won't happen again if we can help it.

We had our annual corporate meeting which was an all day affair filled with themed break-out sessions and sub committee meetings. We had an actual key note speaker which we'd never had before. A friend of the new Head Cheese who talked about something he called "Upside-down Leadership" which essentially is leadership modeled after how Jesus lead the disciples. My company is faith based in its mission statement and motto so this keynote theme was no surprise. I thought it was more of a sermon than a speech and at times I thought I'd been transported into a church service rather than a corporate meeting. But again, this sort of thing is no surprise with my company and something I've grown used to. I will say that working for a company that's faith based has been more positive than negative, but at times the spirituality seems out of sync with what we may be involved in on any given day. I'm still getting used to having a prayer before doing a food demo or having a catering strategy session. I've even been asked to pray with an employee before their annual performance review. I wonder what the new HR guru will make of that? We'll see.



Jun. 3rd, 2015 10:43 am (UTC)
I always wondered what it was you specifically did. How does having 70+ accounts work that are spread across the country? I assume they're other colleges? Do you sell the actual food or do you manage its preparation from Holland? And are you in charge of creating the menus? (I have 25K to feed 350 students for 2 weeks......) Don't mean to be nosy; just ever fascinated by business models!

At some point, HR and the faith-based mission will clash. It's more-or-less inevitable.
Jun. 3rd, 2015 08:40 pm (UTC)
The types of accounts range from business and industry (we call them B&I accounts) which are your snack bars, employee cafes, executive dining room etc. Right now our big B&I clients are Johnson Controls, Steelcase Furniture, Whirlpool and Stryker Medical. College and University accounts which are our biggest sector include Hope College,Kalamazoo College,John Brown University, Earlham college, and many more. Mostly Division III types of schools, all private. We have a growing number of retirement communities and elder care facilities mostly in the West Michigan and Chicago area. And some outlier sort of accounts that don't fit a specific niche like the headquarters for Focus on the Family, various camps and school systems like the Tippecanoe Boy Scout camp and some other independent corporate training facilities/think tanks.

As a company, we take on the persona of the individual account and immerse ourselves in the culture. You will never see a Creative Dining Services (CDS) logo or sign anywhere at one of our accounts. We manage within the existing infrastructure and provide the nuts and bolts of food service operation from ordering, preparing and serving food to creating, maintaining and carrying out a client approved budget. Some accounts want us to hire both hourly and management onto our payroll and there are accounts that only want CDS management and provide their own employees. Each account has its own negotiated contract which has within it a budgeted amount for food and labor. Each account has one or more onsite managers who are overseen by an operations director that is in charge of a specific territory.

I am in charge of student dining and culinary innovation at my account. Meaning, I research dining trends and compose menus for Hope College with the help of a menu committee with oversight from my supervisors, the dining service director and assistant director. I essentially have three bosses on site; the two previously mentioned and the client.

The menu runs in a five week cycle, meaning we run Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner for five weeks then start the cycle all over again.Each meal for each day of the week is split up into 8 mini-cycles for each of the 8 food stations we have in our main dining hall. They are: Decker's deli (think Panera), Comfort Corner, American Grill, Trattoria Speranza (pizza bistro concept), Allergen Aware, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Globe/ChiHOPEle. I'm in charge of a 45 member kitchen staff all of whom are Serv-Safe certified and many of whom are culinary school graduates, career level cooks or certified members of the the American Culinary Federation. There are no lunch ladies, those days are gone.

I essentially get the menus for the school year composed and set by the end of June (hopefully) and pass them on to my bosses who will make sure things look good budget-wise. Experience helps me make menus that are fiscally sound more than actually nit-picking the numbers - that's for my assistant director who's a whiz with accounting - he keeps me in line if I stray, which doesn't happen much. If anything I get called out for being too cheap with the goodies.

We run pretty hard year-round with slack times coming in the first two weeks of June. The traditional college breaks are used for planning, tweaking and catching up - they are not breaks for me typically. Summer is conference/camp season and the campus hosts a number of athletic/music camps as well had religious retreats and gatherings For example, at the end of June we will be hosting a Christian organization call Christ in Youth which are about 2000 people for each of three weeks. I do the menus for those sorts of groups also.

Okay - I'll stop there - this is making me tired just looking at it and I need to go close my eyes for a few minutes. Maybe have a cool drink.
Jun. 4th, 2015 12:21 pm (UTC)
Well, I think it's pretty fascinating, so thank you for taking the time to write it out.