Ruthlessly prioritize. Let’s be honest, everything seems to be a priority in our lives. With Slack, text, email, and social media being an executive is especially loaded these days. I go into the week focusing on my three biggest priorities and push down everything else. Otherwise, you let down not only your family but often your co-workers.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Drew Panayiotou, CEO of Kefi Inc. Drew led the spin out of Kefi, a new family experience retail concept from Chick-fil-A in January 2019 after developing the concept for two years along with establishing the Red Wagon Ventures group within CFA. He came to Chick-fil-A to lead the company’s new ventures and incubator group in January 2017 after 3 years as President & CEO of BBDO-Atlanta. Prior to BBDO, Drew was the SVP of US marketing for Best Buy. In this role, Panayiotou led all domestic marketing functions for Best Buy’s 1300 retail stores and BestBuy.com. Panayiotou was instrumental in making large shifts to digital media and leading one of the most sophisticated CRM and loyalty programs in the US. As CMO, Panayiotou drove consistent annual double-digit online growth on BestBuy.com, the 12th largest U.S. e-commerce site. He also established and developed the Best Buy Media Network (the company’s advertising division) into a $250mm revenue business. Panayiotou has developed a wealth of knowledge and insight from more than 20 years of experience in a variety of marketing roles with Johnson & Johnson, Eastman Kodak, Hershey’s, Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola. Prior to joining Best Buy, he served as the SVP of global marketing for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Burbank, CA, where he was responsible for the worldwide marketing for all Walt Disney theme parks. Panayiotou graduated summa cum laude from Boston College, and received his M.B.A. from Duke University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in New York City, son of Greek immigrants. My dad was a Chef and I grew up in kitchens in Manhattan. It made me appreciate the value of passion and hard work. My dad absolutely loved being in kitchen and cooking. Restaurants are hard work, but it didn’t phase him because of the love he had of the craft. It makes me a firm believer in “do what you love”.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
It really has been an incredible number of experiences that oddly connect together. Kefi, the brand we are starting is a combination of Disney, Best Buy, Procter & Gamble and Starbucks. While I didn’t work at all those companies, I was a senior executive at The Walt Disney Company, Best Buy and Johnson & Johnson. You see elements of what all those companies do in the Kefi experience. I didn’t know at the beginning of my career that it would lead to me creating this new company. But I always had a passion for iconic American brands. Especially as an immigrant, these brands have a special meaning. I believe Kefi can become that meaningful and in retrospect, my experience uniquely contributes to this goal.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
It is very much the life of an entrepreneur. Some days I am on the coasts meeting with venture capitalists. Other days, I am speaking to a parent about the experience they are having at Kefi or I am sitting across from a toy company discussing their brand. It ALWAYS involves talking with and engaging with the team. Employee engagement is the #1 job of a CEO in an experience driven company.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
· First and foremost, as with many things, where you spend your time is a measure of what your priorities are in life. Time signifies importance. You always want your kids to know they are a priority. Without it, they struggle with the confidence that comes with knowing that one matters.
· Not spending time with your kids also makes it tougher to connect with them. Time lets YOU learn about them and what makes them uniquely themselves. That will enable a real relationship to form with your child.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
· Spending time with your children is first and foremost fun and enriching. Kids impart and restore in you a sense of wonder and imagination for the world. They always ask “why”!
· Second, The Beatles wisely once said “All You Need is Love”. Time allows you to form and grow in a relationship with your child. It is a key vitamin and nutrient to love! This is especially true when time allows you both to experience new things together. Together is always better!
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
· I certainly agree — time without real engagement with your child is like “empty calories”.
· Sharing a meal (in our family its breakfast and dinner) and talking is one of our consistent activities together, and we make it fun, too. Sometimes we invite one of my son’s favorite dolls to dinner and roleplay with Harry Potter!
· Singing in the car together is another special moment. It is an easy thing to do together and makes traffic way more productive! Our son Alex is now a complete fan of The Rolling Stones and their greatest hits album.
· We try to use technology productively and will Facetime with out of state family. In particular, our son will do “Show & Tell” sessions for the out of state relatives. Putting kids in control of a show does wonders for their confidence.
· Being a parent and former Disney executive, I can attest to the value of taking vacations, especially cruises. They really allow you to escape and reconnect with one another. Disney provides an amazing family experience that immerses the whole family through shared activities.
· Exercise is another way we spend quality time as a family. Taking a walk or bike ride together really puts the focus on one another and since it usually puts us in nature that often provides a respite and opportunity to break free from distractions.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.
· “iPhone free” principles — this is crucial to allowing us to give our children more quality attention. In our house, phones are not allowed at any meal, in the playroom or before bedtime, because let’s face it, the phone takes away our attention.
· I wake up early to take care of emails, catch up with Slack and exercise. It allows me to be fully present at the start of the day with my son.
· Being a CEO, I lead by example. Being in the kid’s business, I completely shut down by 7pm unless it is a really urgent work matter. This allows everyone to focus on their family or personal lives, and it allows my wife and I to truly wind down the day together. That often leads to better sleep, too, creating more energy for each other.
· Ruthlessly prioritize. Let’s be honest, everything seems to be a priority in our lives. With Slack, text, email, and social media being an executive is especially loaded these days. I go into the week focusing on my three biggest priorities and push down everything else. Otherwise, you let down not only your family but often your co-workers.
· “Saying No”. Admitting that you can’t do EVERYTHING well is a great start to only saying yes to things that are truly important while freeing up quality time with your family. Pleasers tend to want to say yes to everything, but I have found that saying: “I’d love to do that, but right now I have to wear my dad and husband ball cap” is alright, too. Saying no in a funny but truthful way makes it easier on the receiving party!
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
Being a good parent for me is about being the best father. While I want to be my son’s best friend, it really is more about being the best father to my son. Best friend and best father aren’t necessarily the same thing. A father loves unconditionally. I credit my wife who always encourages me to “give corrective feedback to Alex” by saying, “I love you no matter what. Even when you make mistakes or do something wrong. I’d like you to do this a different way next time”. At age 5, there isn’t one story but often it involves helping Alex realize how he is making other people feel by his actions when they aren’t desirable.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I always like to share my family’s immigrant journey. Helping Alex realize how my father grew up in a family of 10 people in a tiny village of Paphos in the war-torn country of Cyrus in the 60’s and became a successful chef in NYC hopefully inspires him to believe anything is possible. There is an article I framed from the New York Times about one of the places my dad worked called “Toots Shor”. The article describes the restaurant as a hangout place for Frank Sinatra and other celebrities. When my son gets older, he can read it and have some items that remind him of the amazing journey my father had and what is possible.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
Ultimately, for me, it is whether I made things better and “made things happen” for those around me — first and foremost my family, then friends and ultimately the world around me. A great question I ask often is whether something would have been better or not happened if I wasn’t around? It clarifies impact on people and in life. It also helps me focus on “doing”. Personally, it isn’t about talking things into existence, I want to “lead and do”. This is true for my role as a father, husband and CEO.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
· The Art of Happiness, Dalai Lama. Learning about how you frame things in life and its impact on happiness was a breakthrough for me. It truly helps me parent.
· Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. Grant Achatz. It is the ultimate story of passion for your craft. I always want my son to see me passionate in things. It will impact his life.
· Fatherly Podcast. I really love their content. It’s modern and refreshing.
· Dr. Phil Weiss, a pediatrician in Atlanta. He always has practical advice about children. It’s honest and often simplifying.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oprah Winfrey was giving a speech and said, “Ultimately people want to know they matter”. It really impacted me because it is so truthful and drives so much motivation in the world. I want my son Alex to know he doesn’t have to do anything to earn my love. He matters simply because he is my son and I am his father. It never has to be earned.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I want to inspire the world to play more. Being the CEO of a “play company”, I have realized the importance of play and how it develops our collaboration and problem-solving ability. I feel the world needs to collaborate more than ever and stop pointing fingers, especially our politicians. I’d love to invite the entire House and Senate to Kefi for a day of play. Maybe it can help them learn to collaborate and problem solve. I also want to inspire more social content and commentary on play. I’d much rather read a tweet about a family playing and enjoying time together than a tweet about what someone had for dinner!
Thank you for all of these great insights!