My mom was a fabulous cook. When I was little, she would make flour tortillas from scratch, regularly. I mean, we always had fresh vegetables and salads and things like that and it was important that we sit down as a family.
My older brother was a big influence on me. When he went off to college, he took a lot of quantity food production classes. He was majoring in animal science and just got me real interested in that, so I kind of followed his lead. I even went to work for the same company he did when I got out of school. My degree is in food science and technology with a nutrition specialty.
I started with Motorola as a café manager at just one small operation and then over time we built four new facilities in Texas and were running 24/7 operations. It was just a great dynamic time not only in the food industry but in semiconductors and Austin in general.
I remember being called in many times at three in the morning if one of our employees had to go home, somebody slipped and fell, that sort of thing. So I would have to go in and work regularly.
I think one thing we did differently at the time at Motorola was to grow with a building. So if the plan was to have 5,000 people in a particular structure eventually, we wouldn't go in there and build a café for 5,000. Rather, we would build small grab-and-go units and then grow them as the building grew. While it was difficult to operate in a smaller kitchen, it was really efficient and challenging.
I think the lesson I learned from Food Works was to get involved. Richard [Ysmael] would encourage us to join the NRA and SFM to get trained and get involved outside of our organization, to meet other people and to do benchmarking. Another lesson I learned was to ask questions about what's new, what's going on with food trends. We were especially encouraged to look at the commercial segments because that was our competition.
After Compass acquired Food Works, one of the first things I got to do was help open up the Boeing business in Seattle, where I and many, many other people converted 48 units in 48 hours. The most rewarding thing about that project on a professional level was seeing the customers come in on Monday morning and being thrilled with the food they saw. That was so cool! On a more personal level, that project was also rewarding because it was where I met my husband, who was working for Compass at the time.
I was excited about the Boeing project because I'd never been to Seattle. Unfortunately, we were so busy, getting up at three or four in the morning and going til eight or nine at night that about all I saw of Seattle was Mt. Rainier when I stepped out the back dock door.
I left Compass because I had been in operations for a really long time and it was important for me to learn the business from the other side, from another perspective. Also, the international aspect of the Dell job really drew me.
I guess what was most surprising about the international operations at Dell was how similar they were. Even from country to country, when you go into the buildings, you know you're still in a Dell account.
We find that almost anywhere that we do a survey, the first thing everybody complains about is pricing. It doesn't matter where you are.
The impact of the economy all over the world is surprisingly similar. And I'm not talking just at Dell. What I realized in my travels recently is that it really is a small world and what we do is much like that recent earthquake in Chile, which caused a tsunami somewhere else. What happens here affects overseas and vice versa.
In B&I, we're going to have to do things differently than before. We have to think differently and pay attention to what college students are doing, what are they eating and how are they eating. I think we have to stay hand in hand with the guys in NACUFS and say, ‘Hey, what are you doing to keep these kids happy?’ Because what I find is that our customer is increasingly sophisticated and even in a down economy they want value and they want good food.
I also think that we need to be cognizant of regional preferences. What works in Phoenix doesn't necessarily work in California, which doesn't work somewhere else. So the one-size-fits-all corporate marketing program really needs to be looked at on a regional basis. And that's going to be increasingly difficult as we decrease head counts.
I think that if an in-house foodservice isn't costing a lot of money and is perceived as a value, then there's no issue with justifying it. But if it's highly subsidized, that's where the difficulties lie. They are constantly looking at the costs and they will do that even more so when it comes to maintenance, smallwares and other things that aren't obvious subsidies but that are costs to the corporation.