(L-R) Toni Brinker, Norman Brinker, and Bernadette Kane at The 2005 Elliot Leadership Conference
Bernadette Kane, Senior Vice President, based in Georgia, joined the organization in 1994 and has over eighteen years experience in the retained executive search arena. Bernadette’s functional specialties include senior level executive leadership assignments in operations, marketing, finance, supply chain and board placements across the hospitality, foodservice, retail and manufacturing industries. During her tenure, she also served as Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer for The Elliot Group. Additionally, Bernadette spearheaded Elliot Productions and Elliot Events including the highly acclaimed Elliot Leadership Conference series for The Elliot Group.
We spoke with Bernadette about her career at Elliot and her views on the hospitality industry.
How has the restaurant/hospitality world evolved since you started working in the industry?
I started working in the restaurant and hospitality industry at a very young age. I was 14 when I first started working at a country club and 16 when I took a second job with Friendly’s in my hometown. What has amazed me over the last 30 years is that the industry has evolved from mostly local Mom and Pop businesses to professional organizations with a focus on fiscal accountability. Along with this growth, however, the most successful businesses are the ones that also keep a focus on hospitality, and making the guest feel special.
You led many original Elliot events over the years. What is your favorite memory?
I have had many incredible memories in leading Elliot Events. However, there are two that truly stand out among the rest for different reasons.
The first was meeting and spending time with Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s. We were honoring him for his contributions to our industry, and he spoke about Wendy’s, but he also used that platform to speak about being adopted and bringing awareness to foster care and adoption. Dave was such a gentle soul that could inspire others with his genuine personality. He had the most beautiful eyes and the softest hands. He inspired me with his passion towards helping others, and has instilled in me the importance of giving back. He is truly an inspiration and it was a blessing to get to spend some private time with him.
Perhaps THE MOST special was the Elliot Leadership Conference where we honored Norman Brinker with “The Elliot Mentor Award.” Norman had cut back on his public appearances in the years before our event, so we were so excited when he agreed to accept our award. The turnout of industry royalty that came to honor him was incredible. Norman was such a genuine and special man with an infectious sense of humor that drew people to him. As we looked at top performing chain restaurants of that time, there was a Norman Brinker protégé at the highest ranks in almost all of them. As Norman spoke at the event, everyone in the audience was mesmerized and was frantically taking notes to capture the morsels of wisdom he shared. When we opened it up to questions from the audience, a number of the executives from the audience who were mentored by Norman stood up and paid tribute individually to him. Each of them shared a memory of how Norman personally touched his life for the better and instilled leadership principles that they now use to lead and inspire others. I get emotional thinking of it right now. It was so powerful.
Name one industry trend that excites you.
I am very excited about the blend of technology in our industry. It’s amazing how technology is evolving our industry between mobile ordering, kiosks, and third party delivery. I think we’ve only touched the surface about where technology will take our industry forward.
What is your most memorable search?
Our mission at the Elliot Group is to “Positively Change Lives, Businesses, and Industries.” It’s at the core of what we do, that is what we strive to do every day, with every search. We have worked with many founders and held their hands through the intimidating process of bringing on a CEO to take the reigns of the company they have dedicated their lives to. The executive that they will trust their legacy to. It’s an awesome responsibility and a powerful journey we go on with them.
Each and every one of those searches holds a very special place in my heart, but perhaps one of the most memorable was a search and partnership with Paul Fleming. Everyone knows Paul for the incredible concepts he has created from P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and his latest, Paul Martin’s. We’ve been very proud to partner with Paul and grateful for his trust over the years to bring him great talent to lead his brands.
While proud of that partnership, what is most memorable to me is the partnership with Paul in his philanthropic efforts. Paul is very active and on the board of GLIDE, a San Francisco based non-profit organization that provides critical services for the poor and disenfranchised. The most visible and highly used program offered at GLIDE is the Daily Free Meals program through which GLIDE serves three meals daily to anyone in need, serving approximately 2000 meals a day, amounting to over 750,000 free meals a year.
Paul wanted to improve and revolutionize the Free Meals program and retained us to partner with them in finding a world class executive to lead that program. Paul wanted a restaurant leader to bring efficiency, but we knew it would take a special executive who could be successful in a non-profit world. We spent some time volunteering and meeting with the members of GLIDE to get a true understanding of what we needed to find in an executive. I’m proud to say that we found an amazing soul with the right technical and moral compass that is helping the program thrive and grow.
What is your favorite part about working in the hospitality field?
For me, my most favorite part of working in the hospitality field is the people. There is no question, it’s the people that make this industry thrive. If you had asked me 24 years ago when I joined The Elliot Group at the age of 24, half of my life ago, that I would be doing this for the rest of my life, I never would have believed them! But, what I do every day is unique and special because the people are unique and special. It is unexpected, unpredictable, warm, and exciting. I love what I do every day!
Many years ago, one of our clients said, when you partner with The Elliot Group, you are not partnering with a Headhunter, you are partnering with a Heart Hunter.
I remember when he said it, and it was a real “AHA” moment for me. That is a very profound statement which defines at the most simple level what we do. I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with The Elliot Group, and I am proud to work with an amazing team of professionals who do the right thing every day, for all the right reasons.
What we do is not easy. We work tirelessly to find the perfect match for our clients. Professionally, there is nothing more gratifying than changing someone’s life. It’s powerful.