April 6, 2022
Visionary leaders chart a course to the C-suite with layovers in multiple departments, creating a culture of innovation throughout their organization along the way. Jason chats with Jameel Burkett, president and CEO of Burkett Restaurant Equipment & Supply in Toledo, OH, about supporting the pursuit of growth and learning, giving back to the industry through association advocacy, and revitalizing his family business amidst a global crisis.
"I've always related the restaurant industry to sports. The restaurant owners are athletes, and we are the sports team owners," explains Jameel. "Our job is to try to get our athletes to want to play on our team and work with us." His passion for the food service supply industry is palpable, but he admits it wasn't always so. Like many next-generation owners, Jameel didn't think the family biz would satisfy his entrepreneurial aspirations. Twenty years later, he leads in an environment where the "intrapreneurial" spirit thrives. "We really believe that everybody in our company is a CEO of their space and they're trained and empowered to operate like CEOs. When you do that, you make good choices." And when someone makes a less than desirable choice? "You pursue growth and learning. When that all happens, everyone's really is led. No one is managed. And that's the objective."
Leadership over management has served Burkett well. "I don't believe in any failures. You either won, or you learned, and so pursue growth and learning," says Jameel. As for his own growth, he decided that if he joined his father in upper management, he wanted to get a feel for the entire organization from the inside out. "Working these different roles, understanding the business, building the structure, and working myself out of those jobs along the way, helped me build a structure and build a team around me so that eventually I can move into my role as president and CEO with a solid foundation, a solid team."
Jameel believes in the pursuit of growth and learning beyond Burkett. He returned to school in 2012 to complete his master's degree and further honed his leadership skills with Vistage executive coaching. It's his membership in FEDA, however, that has provided the most support, especially as the hospitality industry bore the brunt of COVID's many challenges. "I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for all the great people in our industry that took me under their wing when I was a young guy coming out of college, wanting to conquer the world."
The Hard Thing About Hard Things - by Ben Horowitz
"The biggest problem with CEOs is they don't know their business, so they make these theoretical-based decisions, not practical-based decisions, and there's often a disconnect between CEOs and their teams or what happens in the office versus what happens in the street."
"Working these different roles, understanding the business, building the structure, and to your point earlier, working myself out of jobs along the way, helped me build a structure and build a team around. So that eventually I can move into my role as president and CEO with a solid foundation, a solid team around us."
"Two of our core values––we have seven core values, but the two that stand out for me, one of them is ‘pursue growth and learning,’ and the other one is ‘it's your company, build it.’"
"I learned that if you're going to have to make a tough decision, do it once, do it deep, and just get it over with."
"I really believe that I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for our industry, and I want to be able to give back to our industry, to make sure that we help the next generation and beyond to grow."
"The better that the industry is at large, the better we are individually. There's enough business for everybody. There's enough money out there for everybody, so let's make it a better industry so that we can all be more successful together."