Can the Secret Sauce That Built a $6B Business Save Our Politics?

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What do business and politics have in common in today’s climate? Panera Bread Founder and Chairman of the Board Ron Shaich and FoodCorps Co-Founder and CEO Curt Ellis discuss how responsible leadership can inform both business and politics and the central role that food could play. “One of the most powerful things we can do as leaders is first, tell ourselves the truth,” says Shaich. “The hardest part of making decisions is the uncertainty that occurs… You need to project the confidence to everybody to get them over the hurdle while you yourself are unsure.” Ellis describes a key leadership moment when FoodCorps began developing a whole new realm of business skills to address the supply side of school food. “The decision to say: ‘We believe we have the ability to get good at something we’re not yet good at’ was a real decision to put ourselves out there,” he believes.

Ellis sees the power of food in addressing political problems. “Food is this place where so many of the challenges that we must learn how to solve in our country intersect. Food is the place where social justice and racial justice meet environmental sustainability and public health,” he says. Shaich laments the problems created by short-term thinking in business and politics. “We need to examine why our politics has gotten so short term, so coarse and so ‘it’s my way or the highway,’” he says. “Unless we can solve that, we’re not going to be the country in the future that we’ve been in the past.”

Get inspired as two leaders who have found ways to change the world through food share their advice on leadership and making a lasting impact.

Resources and Mentions:

Curt Ellis

Co-Founder and CEO of FoodCorps, an organization dedicated to creating health school food environments. Ellis is recognized as a leading voice in America’s food movement. After growing up in Oregon and finding his passion for food and agriculture at The Mountain School and Yale, Curt moved to Iowa to investigate the role of subsidized commodities in the American obesity epidemic. The film he co-created there, King Corn, received a national theatrical release and PBS broadcast, shaped policy debate about the Farm Bill, and earned a George Foster Peabody Award. He has been recognized as a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, a Claneil Foundation Emerging Leader, a Kellogg Food and Community Fellow, a New Profit Social Entrepreneur, and a recipient of the Heinz Award. Ellis has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, and NPR, is a frequent speaker on college campuses, and serves on the steering committee of Voices for National Service and the advisory board of the Blue Sky Funders Forum. Ellis has led FoodCorps through rapid growth, from a $200,000 founding year in 2010 to its current budget of $15M.

Ron Shaich

Founder, former CEO and Chairman of the Board of Panera Bread, a groundbreaking restaurant brand that today has more than 2,400 bakery-cafes, over 120,000 associates and nearly $6 billion in annual systemwide sales. He is also the Managing Partner of Act III Holdings, a $300 million fund that invests in public and private restaurant and consumer companies that are driving long-term value creation and have the potential to significantly dominate their market niches. He is a frequent speaker on the dangers of short-termism and rampant investor activism and the quarter-to-quarter thinking it has inspired. Shaich has been recognized repeatedly for his visionary leadership. In 2018, he was named Restaurant Leader of the Year by Restaurant Business. In 2017, he received the Legend in Leadership Award from the Chief Executive Leadership Institute at the Yale School of Management. He was also named the second most influential leader in the restaurant industry by Nation’s Restaurant News in its 2017 Power List.

No Kid Hungry

Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is ending child hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.

FoodCorps

Connects kids to healthy food in school, so they can lead healthier lives and reach their full potential. Their AmeriCorps leaders deliver their program in high-need schools, focusing on hands-on lessons, healthy school meals and a schoolwide culture of health. FoodCorps has a national network of offices, service sites and state partners, collaborating to deliver consistently high quality, impactful programs to students. Building on this foundation of direct impact, FoodCorps pursues systemic strategies that will benefit all of our nation’s 100,000 schools.

Panera Bread

Has over 2,000 bakery-cafes in the U.S. and Canada that focus on nutrient-rich and clean food. Panera is dedicated to serving delicious food that is better the consumer, their associates, and for the world we live in. Panera publishes a No No list of ingredients they will not use including no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and no colors from artificial sources. They follow the highest possible animal welfare standards and are focused on eliminating the use of antibiotics in animal products. Panera’s corporate philosophy emphasizes service to the individual communities where they are located.

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