We all know Ron Shaich as the founder of Panera Bread and one of the fathers of the fast-casual restaurant segment. In his tell-all book, Ron explains the processes that he followed to get there. Notably, it starts with an insatiable quest for improvement that fueled the transformation of a company along with an industry. These same lessons offer the hope of transforming an economy if we could all apply Ron’s simple wisdom that may be easy to understand, but hard to live by.
Ron attributes the development of Panera’s success to empathy, or the skill of understanding what the consumer wants and then meeting their needs. While researching Avant Garde cafes may have provided his team with a glimpse into the cutting edge, this is not necessarily the same thing as discerning what a potential mainstream customer, who has yet to experience this concept essence, really wants or needs.
Rather, we attribute Ron’s success to leadership. His research led him to ways of improving the fast-food status quo. He created something that future guests didn’t yet realize they needed (good food served fast) and he diligently showed them a better way.
This is perhaps the missing ingredient to corporate strategy, leadership. It’s not that consumers lead corporate management teams with their unspoken desires, it’s that innovative managers lead consumers to a higher plane, improving their lives in some meaningful way. This is like Lululemon’s ability to create Athleisure attire that consumers didn’t know they needed but couldn’t stay away from after they had a taste. This explains why Lululemon’s pricing power and sales are currently so strong in a punk economy.
Maybe society would enjoy more economic success if we had more corporate leaders who would follow Ron’s example of dedication to better & best. Maybe recessions aren’t as much a function of Fed rate hikes as they are a failure of corporate management teams to serve society with a steady diet of innovation and improvement. We can all learn something from this book (order here) to improve our own personal & professional lives.