Executive Commentary
Mentoring in the Era of Shark Tank
Brett Ladd
Brett Ladd
Chief Executive Officer - Sodexo Government, North America

I consider myself a pretty good mentor. I like to work with people coming up in the field – in my case that would be the culinary arts.

So when the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation asked me to be part of a CEO panel to discuss career trajectories at the recent Armed Forces Culinary Forum, I was excited. It was a chance to share some of the lessons learned from 30-plus years in the workforce with the military’s brightest foodservice stars.

What I didn’t expect was that I would be considered a sort of Shark Tank judge.

“How do I get the capital to open my restaurant?”

“How long will it take to turn a BIG profit?”

“I have this incredible idea ….”

Three-fourths of the questions were variations on a basic theme: “I have this idea that will make me an overnight success – how do I launch?”

Every entrepreneur needs energy and optimism. I just want to make sure this generation understands that there is another – I would argue more important – component to success.

Those of us on stage – Jack Kleckner from EcoLab, Shayne Varnum of HobartService, Jay Stieber, Chairman of the National Restaurant Association and RozMallet of PhaseNext Hospitality – have decades and decades of collective experience.

It’s safe to say that none of us were weaned on dreams of reality TV competitions of going viral. We came up through the ranks before all that.

Don’t get me wrong. The enthusiasm before us was terrific. Every entrepreneur needs that kind of energy and optimism. I just want to make sure this generation understands that there is another – I would argue more important – component to success: substance.

Gather a panel of CEOs from almost any other industry and they will say the same thing. Substance is at the root of success.

This means that skill development is essential for anyone starting out or looking to transition.

The process does not have to be lengthy. I’m not suggesting that young talents wait it line just for the sake of developing patience. But learning curves need to be respected.

In my field, the journey can include culinary training, management courses and cultural bridging. For this military audience, the move to the private sector will take some time as they learn that hierarchy and order-taking look different in the commercial world.

There’s a good chance that practical education will even inform those great ideas.

Take the time to hone your skills and learn your trade, I told the audience. It will lead to expertise, pride in one’s work and, perhaps, the fruition of dreams.


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