Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Whether it be other business executives, mentors or even friends who inspire you, surrounding yourself with people who push you to be better will always yield positive results.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bruce Faber.
Bruce Faber is a sought-after restaurant business consultant and owner of EHS Hospitality’s Illinois and Wisconsin branches. EHS is a one of the country’s premier recruiting companies specializing in restaurants, entertainment, hospitality experiences and corporate food service. For more than 20 years, EHS has been a thought leader in the staffing and recruitment industry; they are known as much for their modern approach as they are for their incredibly high success rate (95% of the candidates EHS places end up becoming long-time, high performing employees of the companies with whom they’ve been placed.) A partial list of EHS clients include hospitality powerhouses like Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Levy Restaurants and Darden Restaurants (parent company of Olive Garden, Yard House, Eddie V’s, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grill, Bahama Breeze and others.) Bruce also works with independent, franchise and small growth brands.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started in the restaurant business at the age of 4, spending weekends at my grandmother’s restaurant in Chicago (The Rathskeller.) My passion for hospitality revealed itself at a young age — as a 1st grader during my school’s career day, I announced that I wanted to be a restaurant owner when I grew up.
After graduating high school, I began my full-time career in the restaurant business. I worked my way, starting as a busboy at The Snuggery in Schaumburg, IL. I was 17 years old and I still remember that first interview with Jim Early. Among other things, Jim asked me why I wanted to be a busboy and what was I going to do to succeed at this job. I replied enthusiastically “If given the opportunity, I will not disappoint you — I will be the best bus boy ever!” Jim hired me right away and I ended up spending 4 years with that company. I was promoted to barback then doorman then bartender before landing my first salaried position as a kitchen manager at The Snuggery’s Northbrook location. Having the opportunity to learn the business from so many different angles was key in building my knowledge of the industry. That early experience solidified my feeling that hospitality was where I wanted to spend my career. 35 years later Jim Early is still a friend and mentor to me!
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
The ability to establish genuine relationships is crucial in an industry, no more so than hospitality & entertainment. I believe networking “outside the box” and nurturing authentic relationships with both clients AND candidates have been factors in my success as the owner of EHS Hospitality’s Illinois and Wisconsin branches.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. Whether it be other business executives, mentors or even friends who inspire you, surrounding yourself with people who push you to be better will always yield positive results.
2. Surround yourself with people who are different than you. Be a sponge — soak up as much as you can from people who come from different backgrounds and/or have different viewpoints. That type of openness and exposure to different ideas will help you be a better leader.
3. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be successful. No one can be an expert at everything. Identify areas in which you know you don’t excel and find the best possible partner who does. (For example, I know that I’m no Public Relations expert so we work with an external PR partner that helps us to successfully navigate those waters.)
4. Your employees are your number one asset. Many businesses operate under the mantra that your customers are the most important asset (you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “the customer is always right.”) But in reality, it’s your employees who are most important. They are the ones who are interacting with those customers, helping to create customer loyalty and, ultimately, grow your business. Treating your employees like the assets they are will directly impact their (and your) success.
5. Allow your team to be part of big picture goal setting. At the beginning of every year we have a meeting at which I present the “theme” for the new year (usually an acronym in which each letter stands for a general goal.) I open up the floor and ask the rest of the team to help me/us create specific goals and potential roadmaps for how to achieve them. Having the entire team involved helps employees to feel an increased sense of ownership over their work and builds a strong sense of community.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Turn your phone off. In today’s world, everyone has an iPhone or other kind of smartphone, meaning that they are accessible by call, text AND e-mail 24/7. Being TOO connected absolutely causes burnout. I make it a point to “turn my phone off” to anything business-related after 6:00pm each day. I really try to dedicate evenings to my wife and kids — the concept of work-life balance is so important. Carving out time to spend with family or focus on hobbies truly helps you to recharge and, in turn, allows you to be more productive and effective during your work hours.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Bill Post of Levy Restaurants and “Famous Dave” Anderson of Famous Dave’s have both been long-time mentors of mine; I’m so grateful to both of them for their support and guidance over the years. I first worked with Bill when I was the manager at Spiaggia, Levy’s Italian fine dining concept on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I have always been a talkative guy. During one meeting with Bill he gave me a piece of advice that has helped me every day since: he told me that “we have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly,” meaning that it’s important to listen twice as much as you speak. I’m still a talkative guy but I also take great care to listen to others and that has definitely contributed to my success.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
My current position is a dream come true. As the CEO of EHS Hospitality’s Illinois and Wisconsin branches and an Executive Recruiter I get to combine my love of the food & beverage industry with my experience in business and restaurant operations. After 10 years in this position, my business has grown from a home office in the basement to now working with hundreds of restaurant, bar, hotel, food service and resort clients nationwide. I am proud that EHS Hospitality is the #1 executive search firm in Chicago and my goal is to keep the business growing while maintaining the same level of excellence.
Personally, one of my biggest goals is focused on travel. My wife, Stefanie, and I are currently on a mission to see all Seven Wonders of the World. We just visited the Great Wall of China last year and, hopefully, will be planning our next trip soon (depending on COVID-19 safety regulations and travel restrictions, of course.)
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
As a business person, I want my legacy to be that of someone who helped others reach their own career goals. I know how life-changing it can be to have a great mentor and I would hope to be just that for my current (and future) team members. I’d like to be thought of as someone to listens and supports others as they work to make their dreams come true.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn: Bruce Faber
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.