Part 1 – Getting Personal
We are all vulnerable to moments of prejudice or at least a set of default expectations. I’m ashamed to admit that I expected brasher leaders amongst the ranks of the Union Square Hospitality Group; after all this is New York.
I certainly didn’t expect to be moved by gentle, and softly spoken listeners who are driven to make others feel important.
As Chief of Staff and Partner, Richard Coraine is immediately engaged and engaging. His depth of experience is formidable, but his demeanour is warm hearted and generous. Richard is the people ‘statesman’ of the USHG.
Richard joined the USHG, as a partner in 1996 and has held ‘various leadership positions for over 20 years’. His roles have involved the ‘conceptualisation and incubation’ of new businesses which include; Eleven Madison Park, Blue Smoke, Shake Shack, Maialino, North End Grill, and Untitled. Richard also worked alongside Susan Salgado on the launch of Hospitality Quotient. Today, he is most excited about the work he is doing re-establishing Union Square Cafe at its new location.
It’s hard to imagine a more impressive Hospitality or Business resume.
And yet it’s the man, I found myself thinking about after my time with him … and the pearls of business wisdom, as valuable as they were, came second.
While Richard’s people skills are impressive, it’s not ‘skills’ that have created the leader he is today. People see through skills and sense a person’s character; it’s Richard’s character that has helped formed the backbone of, arguably, the most successful and important hospitality company in recent times.
He had me on his side with his first sentences, which were unaffectedly designed to make me feel important to him at that moment. While talking to him, he made us feel like he had all the time in the world. I say ‘us’ because I had my 15-year-old daughter with me, and he focused on her as well; taking the time to make her feel encouraged with her Y11 studies in Accounting and Economics.
He was prepared to offer us anything at all he could do, and he was boundless in his generosity and genuine friendship. He must have a lot of friends.
The personal observations are not unprofessional in this context. Richard exemplifies the sort of leader I had come to expect from the level of hospitality provided by the USHG. Richard gained my loyalty and admiration within a short period of time, and I’d jump at any opportunity to speak to him again. It is not surprising that the various teams that he leads feel that same way. After meeting Richard, every person I met who knew Richard spoke about him with lively enthusiasm and obvious respect. Even after meeting him for a short period of time; I’d work hard for him; probably for free – that’s how persuasive kindness and genuine attempts at building relationship can be.
Meeting Richard reminded me how critical great leadership really is; the company reflects the character of its leaders. I saw Richard’s character reflected in every worker I met, and while Richard is not acting alone; he is testament to how thoughtful Danny Meyer has been about WHO he has surrounded himself with from the beginning.
The character of the leadership in your company matters; your character matters – your company reflects you and the leaders in your business. Play this out in life, and … well it’s a powerful incentive to invest in personal development. It’s no wonder I felt moved; being reminded just how much my own character matters, it’s sobering, if not a little scary.
Part 2 – Understanding Business
Richard described the USHG’s ‘unprecedented business growth’ as passion. You must be passionate about what you do; they’re passionate about New American Cuisine, Burgers and BBQ, but not Mexican; they’re passionate about outstanding hospitality. They’re also passionate about growing people.
Brett, an enthusiastic chef at the original Flatiron Blue Smoke, described the USHG as ‘cult-like’ in its ability to inspire loyalty and energy from all those involved. Richard points out that ‘cult’ is a derivative of ‘culture’ and he’s proud of the strong culture at the USHG. He credits the strong USHG culture to great leadership and a strong mission that has never changed. Employees will look to their boss on how to behave, so outstanding leadership over time is a powerful in creating a ‘self-modulating culture’ – where employees only want others who exemplify ‘the cause’ to work with them.
Like Susan Salgado, Richard doesn’t unnaturally separate the way we understand family life from business. The USHG is a lot like a family, there is internal dysfunction at times, but it’s within a sense of belonging.
What he said about love and labour was surprising. Surprising, because his observation was unusually sensitive for a business meeting.
He observed that, aside from love, the other most sacred thing you can provide is your labour. I found his thinking radical, and probably the most significant moment of my whole trip to New York.
I immediately thought of my labour for family, and I caught a glimmer of why the USHG are so profoundly motivated to grow people. If they view the labour of others as sacred; then the responsibility they have is significant.
USHG attract talent for a variety of reasons; one of course is the luxury of a mature reputation; added benefits such as an excellent health care package, savings scheme, education bonuses, and a strong culture. They also create career paths and define career paths clearly. In a sense Eleven Madison Park is a direct result of internal career development within the USHG.
At Shake Shack, where 50% of employees are youth on their first job, it’s important that the job is made fun and exciting, but there must also be clearly defined career paths all the way from Area Manager to Partner. Richard is clear, if you don’t provide a career path, you’ll only get transit workers who are not as invested in the company.
In terms of business success, Richard puts a lot of emphasis on how people are treated within that business.
He claims people want THREE things from their boss:
- People want to know what to do; they want to know what success looks like.
Richard has a well-polished story to go with his point.
An uncle asks his nephew to clean the restaurant kitchen and leaves. The nephew cleans and cleans for a couple of hours and finally believes he has it sparkling. The uncle returns and swipes his fingers right under the kitchen bench – revealing a layer of grease.
“I thought I told you to clean the kitchen” he snaps.
The point is that if you want a specific result; it’s critical you show ‘the labourer’ what it looks like to succeed. You need to show them … here this is what it looks like to do a great job.
- People want to know how they are going.
Everyone needs feedback, and they need to feel encouraged and appreciated. Only in the context of feedback and encouragement do you develop the sort of relationship that can tackle the tougher moments productively. I saw one example of encouraging feedback on the wall of the main USHG office, their Caught Doing Right board is just one way they like to encourage one-another.
- People need a level playing field.
A team, or individual that detects favouritism will check out. Leadership must be fair and even.
Richard goes as far to claim that if your business has great leadership, the team knows what success looks like, there is productive and constant dialogue, and everyone is treated equally – then the business will succeed.
From New York, April 15th – Alexis O’Connell for The Hospitality Company