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Executive Chat - August 2020

Executive Chat

Introducing GLEAM Network – a new mentoring & leadership development organization for the restaurant and food service industry

By Rebecca Patt, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Wray Executive Search

We live in a time when restaurants and food service companies face unprecedented disruption, and investment in programs for the professional growth of the work force faces new challenges. In this backdrop, Sanjiv Razdan has launched a bold and ambitious new start-up called the Global Leadership Enhancement and Mentoring Network, aka GLEAM Network, a platform providing free mentoring, coaching, and training programs designed to help people across functions and of various experience levels in the industry. This non-profit organization is aimed at making mentoring and structured leadership development opportunities more accessible across the industry.

Sanjiv is a veteran leader in the restaurant industry whose resume includes being a C-level officer and President with Pizza Hut, COO of Applebee’s, and most recently COO of Sweetgreen. Sanjiv’s idea for starting the GLEAM Network took off in April 2020, after he made a LinkedIn post inquiring about general interest in creating a volunteer-based mentoring program for the restaurant and food service industry. The post went viral with some 35,000 views. Many notable leaders spoke up, saying they wanted to help.

I spoke with Sanjiv about his inspiration for GLEAM Network, what GLEAM is offering, the all-star team already on board to move GLEAM forward, and all the ways people and companies can sign up now to participate in its mentoring and learning programs and support the mission of this fledgling organization.

What inspired you to start GLEAM Network?

This story goes back a few years. I spent 20 years in the early stages of my career with Yum! Brands. When my career was developing, I received so much time and mentoring from some great leaders. At various stages of my career, people took me under their wings, provided guidance, or showed me some tough love. This really helped me progress my career and led me to identify that my personal purpose was to help people I work with on their leadership journeys. I have, ever since, been trying on an individual basis to find ways of paying it forward.

During COVID, I have had more time on my hands, as I was not traveling as much and saving commute time. I began contemplating what might be a good way to use this time productively and exploring how to make this dream of paying it forward around leadership development into something a lot bigger.

So, I put this idea out on LinkedIn, just saying hey, would there be other people who would like to volunteer to be mentors. That one post got some 35,000 views, resonating tremendously and leading to overwhelming support. That is really what led to the formation of GLEAM.

Can you explain the programs and opportunities that GLEAM offers?

Our mission at GLEAM is to support leadership development and mentoring opportunities for the under-served community within the food service and restaurant industry. I find there are very few companies that have developed the muscle to provide skill development around leadership.

Companies can provide you with the roles, and they provide you with learning assignments. They sometimes send you on seminars if you're lucky, or they sign you up for a course, but very rarely do I find that they have the internal development capability where there's a thoughtful identification of what your development need is and then tailoring a development plan that is uniquely relevant to you.

If you do not have the privilege within your company of receiving leadership development, or if you belong to an under-served group that is not getting those opportunities, we want to support you. We believe that we can supplement leadership development in three different ways: the first is through one-on-one mentoring, where we match you with a mentor who is not from your company, but achieved things in their career that might be able to be of relevance to you and has complementary strengths.

The second way is participating in intimate group learning experiences that we call Learning Circles. Here you get together with a subject matter expert, and they talk to you about relevant topics like how to lead in a crisis, how to leverage technology in food service, navigating the world of ghost kitchens, delivery couriers and off-premise channel development; or how to create your personal brand and manage your career.

The third way, we think, is the traditional large-scale seminar format. If you need to attend one of those today, it typically costs a lot, and not everybody can afford them. What we are trying to do is democratize such learning and make these kinds of opportunities accessible more widely.

When one does this not-for-profit, and the only objective is to do good for the community, it is amazing how many people are stepping up to help us, we are getting much affection and support and are super grateful.

We have a bold ambition to be the best in the world at providing mentoring and leadership development at no cost to our industry across the world.

What companies and individuals are GLEAM focused on reaching with its programs?

We are focused on primarily chain restaurants and food service, so that also includes people in the contract catering business, the ghost kitchen space, and the delivery courier space that has now become so integral to the world of food service.

We are also open to people joining us from the world of franchising, owner-operators of individual restaurants, mom-and-pops, and regional players. Everybody is welcome to participate, either as a mentor or as a mentee, to engage in our Learning Circles, or to volunteer to help with their functional skills by joining the core team at GLEAM.

Who are the ideal candidates to participate as mentees and learners?

The target audience for us is anybody who is in the restaurant space working above-restaurant level. Our hypothesis is that most concepts have good training for people who work in a restaurant. So, up to a restaurant General Manager level, there's always some kind of structured training and development, and that is not our target audience.

Our target audience is people who work at the above-restaurant level, across all functions. That is where we find the gap in availability of structured leadership development, and the sweet spot for us to contribute.

Our first cohort of mentees was a pretty broad group all the way from C-suite executives to multi-unit level operations leaders. For our second cohort of mentees that start in October, we are customizing our mentoring program into one program targeted at “Emerging Leaders” who would be in the early to middle stages of their career. We are also building a specific mentoring program for people who are one or two levels removed from the C-suite and are facing slightly different career and leadership challenges.

There's also third cohort that we have identified, and we are collaborating with the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management to customize a mentoring program for students of their Bachelor of Science in Restaurant and Food Service Management. Their needs are unique and impacted by short supply of internships and jobs which are tough to come by right now in the industry.

You can get a sense that we are starting to stratify the mentoring program as we learn from our target audience and get access to more resources.

Who are the ideal people to volunteer as mentors and Learning Circle leaders?

Accomplished leaders who are seasoned people managers, further along in their careers and have had the benefit of structured growth and development opportunities themselves. Prior experience of having coached and mentored others is also relevant.

Mentees like to look up to folks who have accomplished things in their career and therefore feel like they are getting credible input. People who have checked those boxes are the right people to sign up for us as our mentors. Also, we have been very fortunate to have mentors sign up who have recently retired or are trained and certified as coaches, people who may not be from food service but who coach executives for a living are ideal for us as well.

We are looking for mentors and Learning Circle leaders from across functions. We want people from the world of technology, human resources, marketing, general management, supply chain, development, finance, operations, strategy, and planning. Our mentees represent those functions and are often seeking specific input from leaders who are from their function. We are keen to have people across all these functions step up and offer to mentor for us or to lead a Learning Circle.

What are some hot topics you plan to address in the Learning Circles?

No doubt there are soft skills that people are looking for but also some are seeking very competency-based skill inputs, particularly around topics that are emerging today. For example, how do I make a decision on whether or not to go with a ghost kitchen, is delivery going to be profitable for me or not, how do I relaunch a brand or even coaching around how to navigate one's career during these choppy times, building trust with franchisees, etc.

So, the Learning Circles will address soft skills, pragmatic insights, and experiences shared around topics which are relevant to navigating the day-to-day leadership challenges and personal journeys.

How are the mentoring sessions and Learning Circles conducted?

We are fortunate that everybody has become accomplished at using technology and virtual calls. So, everything that we are doing now is virtually delivered via platforms like Zoom, Google Meets or Microsoft Teams. Being 100% virtual enables us to be very nimble and get around challenges of geographic boundaries.

With our mentoring program, we have envisioned it as a six-month program with a new batch of cohorts starting quarterly. Our next quarterly batch starts October 1, so right now we are signing up both mentors and mentees for that cohort.

The Learning Circles are an ongoing program. The way that program works is that it is a ninety-minute session focused on one specific topic, hosted in an intimate setting of six to eight people led by a subject matter expert. This format enables high levels of engagement, peer-to-peer learning, and networking.

Finally, we have what we call our Speaker Series. These are sessions set up on topics of broad appeal in a seminar format with primarily one-way sharing targeted to larger audiences.

Do you have a vision of where you would like to see GLEAM in the next say, three to five years?

We have a bold ambition to be the best in the world at providing mentoring and leadership development at no cost to our industry across the world. We do not know of anybody else who is doing it at the quality, scale, and footprint of our vision.

Our intent is also to leverage the latest thinking in behavioral science, leadership thinking, and digital technology. Let me share an example of one way of how this would manifest itself at GLEAM. When you run a mentoring program within a company, you know the pool of mentors and mentees and have insights to make an informed match. We have a responsibility of care to make great matches at GLEAM without really knowing intimately everybody who is in our network. To get around this challenge we want to leverage tools like behavioral assessments and technology. We want to leverage algorithms to support mentoring matches, like the technology in a matchmaking app.

Our vision is also to have a global footprint and impact as many people as possible. We find that we are providing development to our mentees and learners while also helping our mentors and faculty “fill their cup” because people who are volunteering find that it is very gratifying to help and impact others.

Another dimension of our vision is to explore working with companies that may not have their own muscle of leadership development or mentoring, where they could outsource that to GLEAM Network in return for supporting us with resources.

What do you think about starting GLEAM Network in the context of all these crises we are facing with the pandemic, the economy, and social division and unrest?

We are living in unprecedented times, and in the last few months have seen consumer behavior change and accelerate at a pace which may otherwise have taken up to a decade, particularly in terms of digital adoption, hyper awareness towards safety and sanitation, working from home and just being much more comfortable with the use of technology. We were seeing these trends even before COVID, but I think COVID just brought forward what perhaps would have happened over a much longer period.

As a result, three things are happening: certain kinds of jobs or roles that existed have gone away. Many restaurants are not coming back because they have gone out of business and we have fewer jobs available. This scarcity and change are reshaping what skills are going to be required to be relevant for the restaurant and food service concepts of today.

The second dynamic that is happening is the application of digital, automation, and the integration of services like ghost kitchens.

The third change is that organizations have far fewer learning and development resources in the near term just because of the revenue pressures and profit pressures. I do not see them currently investing into mentoring, leadership development, and soft skills training in the same way that they might have previously.

These macros lend themselves to an organization like GLEAM being highly relevant today. We think that within our network, we have leaders who are navigating these waters who have first-hand experience and can share those experiences to help others. We think we have the resources to help people when it comes to mentoring and helping them up their skills.

We have a unique opportunity to contribute and pay it forward. That is the essence of what our team of volunteers are trying to do, express the gratitude that we have for people that have helped us along our journeys, by paying it forward to others.

Who else is involved so far in GLEAM?

We have about 200 executives who have signed up to either be a mentor with us or to be a Learning Circle leader. These include leaders like Denny Post, the former CEO of Red RobinJim Mizes who was until recently CEO of Blaze Pizza, and several others like them who are C-suite and VP level and above executives just wanting to pay it forward.

The second group of people involved are the group of people we are supporting, our mentees. We already have our first group of 35 mentees who are in mentoring relationships with GLEAM mentors. Most of them are based out of the US, but we also have some that are in the UK, the Middle East, and India, so we have an emerging global footprint.

We also have a core team of volunteers helping us with project management and content development of our programs and setting up our organization. We have people like Jaimi St. John, who came to us with a background in program management from Chipotle and Panera Bread. We have Kelly Cockrell, an ace instructional designer, Janis Bartlett, an accomplished HR leader who I knew from Dine Brands and other similar and talented kindred spirits.

Last but certainly not the least we have our board of directors: Carin Stutz, President and CEO of Native FoodsTabassum Zaltorawala, Chief Development Officer for Chipotle; John Dikos, the Chief Franchising and Licensing Officer for Chicken Guy, and we've got Laurence Mittelbronn from the National Restaurant Association. We also have access to leaders like Sheri Miksa, who has been a CEO at several fast-casual concepts, playing a very key role to help us move forward. So, just a wide spectrum of people from across the industry.

Sanjiv, are you envisioning this as your day job going forward?

No, I am not; this is a passion project for me to pay it forward. I am very committed to GLEAM, but I do not see this as my day job. I am actively considering what my next role is and looking for a CEO opportunity with a mid-sized, PE-backed, purpose-driven brand that is looking to scale up and grow. I am having some conversations with a few people now and exploring the right fit for myself. My hope is that we will have built up the GLEAM organization and the nonprofit entity to a certain level over the next few months, to an extent that it not only has momentum but is able to operate independently with the generosity of our sponsors, donors and volunteers.

What is the most critical help you need right now with GLEAM?

We are at that stage where it is critical for us to find donors and sponsors. For us to have the impact we are trying to achieve and do it as thoughtfully as we want to do it, we are looking for people and organizations who would be willing to sponsor us in a variety of different ways.

We are looking for sponsorship that could help in providing us with a tech platform and access to tools or resources that we might otherwise not be able to have. We are also looking for dollar investments to build out the organization and access the resources we need to scale. Whilst we are a volunteer based non-profit, our needs are like that of any other for-profit organization, and we are dependent on the generosity of others to pursue our mission.

So, I would love to call out that we are not only looking for mentors, mentees, and Learning Circle leaders, we are also looking for people to provide functional support, and for people who would just be willing to sponsor us or donate to our cause.

I believe that the food service and restaurant space has always been a community. Large as it is, it feels small because people helping people has been part of its fabric right from its inception. I am grateful to be part of this community I cherish for 30 years.

If there are people you know who could benefit from GLEAM, whether it is attending some of our programs or signing up as mentees, please help us spread the word. We are looking to support talent that is truly deserving and who might not ordinarily have access to the kind of resources that GLEAM might be able to provide.

Really at our core, we are a very innovative concept and organization. So, if you come from the world of behavioral science, technology, or something that you feel that we would benefit from, we would love to hear from you. We would love to hear your ideas and see how we could constantly keep evolving. Because at the pace the world is changing, we think that we need to keep changing as well, and stay in tune with the needs of the community within food service.

If people want to get involved, how do they contact you?

The best way is to is to write to me at

Need to hire top talent for your executive team? Contact Rebecca Patt at

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