I have always believed that money is as much a bi-product of goodness as it is of technical business prowess. Restaurateur Danny Meyer is a good man. He is a living testament to my frequently voiced mantra, “Good is Greed.” Or, as Danny puts it, “Generosity is clearly in our self-interest.”
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Danny speak at the Inc. Business Owners Council at Inc. Magazine in NYC. What a sweet guy. (As well, of course, as a wily, tough, successful businessman.) He is a relaxed, almost impish fellow, full of bonhomie, unfeigned humility, and self-directed humor. He is both playful and unpretentious.
Briefly, Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group in New York. He owns some of the most respected eateries in the US. They include Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and JazzStandard, as well as the rapidly expanding upscale burger chain, Shake Shack, with multiple locations nationally.
I personally have zero interest in cooking or creating food (though I love to eat and am a member of the James Beard Foundation.) But Meyer’s passion for both food and business philosophy is palpable. He wrote quite a fine book called Setting the Table (HarperCollins, 2006), which should be read by any business owner interested in creating culture. The book is a compelling memoir of a master restaurateur, as well as a thoughtful and moral creator of business culture.
In reading Danny’s book I found myself skipping or scanning long sections on the ins and outs of food, though he is a good writer and story teller, kind of like a kinder, gentler Anthony Bourdain. But his book’s pedagogical value for the entrepreneur is his thinking about branding through what he defines as “hospitality.” He states, “Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes you feel.”
Meyer says the key to creating a hospitality culture is your employees. They are more important to Meyer than his clients. He says if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. He starts with hiring people with the emotional skills of empathy and genuinely liking people. His hierarchy of importance is employees, customers, community, suppliers, investors—in that order. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I couldn’t agree more.
In addition to his missionary zeal around hospitality, I believe his key insight for entrepreneurs is his deep commitment to giving back. He is a person of a karmic faith that the universe gives back to you what you put into it. His greatest entrepreneurial success to date is Shake Shack. He attributes this success to nothing more than his five year pro bono commitment to clean up the rat infested, run-down Madison Square Park. He is overly modest and the story is too long for this column, but suffice it to say Danny Meyer is a man who walks his talk.
Here’s a bit of advice I like from page 189 of Setting the Table. “Where ever your center lies, know it, name it, stick to it, and believe in it. Everyone who works with you will know what matters to you and will respect and appreciate your unwavering values. Your inner beliefs about business will guide you through the tough times. It’s good to be open to fresh approaches to solving problems. But when you cede your core values…it’s time to quit.”
Jim Collins, in Built to Last, puts it this way. “Core purpose is the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work—it taps their idealistic motivations—and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.” I think Danny Meyer would agree. Thanks, Jim.