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Sanjiv Razdan of GLEAM Network : “Sharpen your saw”

Sharpen your saw. Life moves at such a fast pace; business moves even faster. We live in a world that gets disrupted with innovation at a speed which is hard to comprehend. I was born in a world where cell phones did not exist and growing up, we did not even have a television in […]

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Sharpen your saw. Life moves at such a fast pace; business moves even faster. We live in a world that gets disrupted with innovation at a speed which is hard to comprehend. I was born in a world where cell phones did not exist and growing up, we did not even have a television in our home until I was in my early teens. The point is that the only way to keep pace and staying relevant as a leader is to constantly keep learning, upskilling and remain perennially curious!


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sanjiv Razdan, Founder, Chair and CEO of GLEAM Network.

Sanjiv Razdan is the Founder, Chair and CEO of GLEAM Network, a volunteer based non-profit whose mission is to provide mentorship and leadership development to the underserved community within the restaurant and foodservice industry. From inception, Sanjiv was determined to build an organization that provided low / no cost access to all programs, including executive leadership training, 1:1 mentoring, and bi-weekly learning circles helmed by the industry’s most inspiring leaders.

Prior to GLEAM, Sanjiv was the COO of Sweetgreen, leading Field Operations, Food Safety and Ops Services + Innovation teams for the rapidly growing company nationwide. He played a key role in shaping the strategy and direction of the brand and was instrumental in the hyper growth of retail locations and digital channels, landing Sweetgreen in the #1 spot on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Food Company list.

Sanjiv has held executive positions in the food service industry for close to 3 decades, leading globally recognized brands through growth, restructuring and turnaround situations, including Applebee’s and Dine Brands.

In addition to building GLEAM Network, Sanjiv serves on the Board of Directors of Bluestone Lane, a rapidly growing, Australian-inspired premium coffee, cafe & lifestyle brand is an advisor to ONO Food Co., an innovative robotics startup focused on building automated solutions for the restaurant industry. After living and working in multiple cities across the globe, Sanjiv now resides in Southern California with his wife Nisha and two daughters Meha and Diya, who continues to inspire him daily.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was a physics undergraduate in college and like so many I aspired to get a postgraduate degree in Business Administration. Getting into a top-notch MBA program involved a lot of essays, exams and personal interviews. I came across a hotel conglomerate that offered a program the entrance procedures required for MBA schools and thought that it would be a great to get some much-needed practice. I went ahead and applied for a job as a ‘Hotel Executive Trainee’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

I was able to go from a Restaurant Manager to a COO and, 30 years later, I am still in love with the industry. When the pandemic hit, I knew I had to help the industry that gave me so much in my life. This is where GLEAM Network was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

This story really goes back to when and how it all started for GLEAM Network. The world around me and the restaurant industry in specific was crumbling bit by bit due to the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I was not traveling or commuting to work, allowing me to have this massive chunk of time to do things that I quite frankly had never really had the time to do before. I thought to myself, “Get in touch with a few trusted former colleagues and forge a network of leaders that want to pay it forward by mentoring others and supporting them in their leadership development. As I put my idea on paper, my messages sounded really functional and definitely was not tugging enough at the heart strings. This is where my older daughter Meha stepped in. Meha is a gifted writer who took my words and idea and transformed them into prose that stood out on LinkedIn

Within minutes of my call to action, I received over 33,000 responses from volunteers offering to join my idea. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed.

One phone call after another, along with hundreds of Zoom meetings, I found my core group of individuals who shared my passion, represented a diverse set of talented leaders — helps that they are smarter than I — and who are willing to pay it forward.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was obsessed about branding our mission and organization in a way that not only distinctive but was inspiring and stood for something meaningful. I came up with GLEAM, an acronym for ‘Global Leadership Enhancement and Mentorship’. Sounds great, right? Went off, formally registered the entity but made it sound more formal with the name “Global Leadership Enhancement and Mentorship Network”. A small change but one that I thought made sense. I proceeded to create a logo and wasted no time in leveraging the name and branding across all our touch points. It wasn’t until I started fundraising that I realized that “Global Leadership Enhancement and Mentorship Network” does not fit on a ‘Pay To’ check line, which is extremely important for a charity that survives on donations by check. Perhaps I should have figured out how to work with the acronym CASH. Needless to say, our name is GLEAM and if one wants to donate to us using the full name they will be testing their calligraphic check writing skills.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The Restaurant and Foodservice Industry in the United States is the second largest employer with almost 13.5 million people, with the bulk of this workforce employed in hourly, frontline roles. Factor in that 52% are women and 50.4% are people of color. Most businesses within the industry offer skill-based positions or apprenticeship training but lack an ecosystem for leadership development. As a result, many professionals slow down their growth, are constrained in their ability to max out their potential, while growing their wages, or the end up capping their careers.

This is where GLEAM comes in. We believe that we are in the business of unlocking human potential and democratizing leadership development. We are committed to ensure that anyone that desires growth and is willing to put in the effort is able to have access to a great mentor, terrific leadership development sessions and tools to build self-awareness. Our programs are tailored to do this exactly this and we do not charge those that we serve, in other words our work is entire pro-bono.

We are able to do this because of the generosity, knowledge, skills and aptitude of our all-volunteer organization and all donors that support us in making it happen.

While we are here to serve all those that are underserved when it comes to leadership development and mentoring, our priority is to address the needs of those that are not only underserved but also under-represented. This is how we are doing our bit to make a significant social impact over a period of time.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

It is hard to pinpoint just one story,but I will share this. As we wrapped up 2020, we hosted what we called a GLEAMFUL Gathering, a virtual event bringing together our members and donors to share some holiday cheer and thank them for believing in us. We invited a few our mentees to share the story of their journey with their mentors. It was here that I realized the real impact we were having on the mentees. We have built confidence, excelled career paths and coached our mentees as they focused on developing their professional goals. We are watching the future leaders of our industry develop before our eyes.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First off, we need to examine the barriers that make so many women and people of color are unable to leap from an hourly role to the higher paying ones in a business. Real insights will allow us all to driving meaningful action. There is something about this industry that makes is a refuge for minorities, let’s get behind ensuring that they have a fair chance of succeeding and getting ahead! Also “What gets measured, gets managed.” Data must be shared publicly in the same way that cities require access to health department inspections or quarterly reports for publicly traded companies. Let’s get behind ensuring that everyone has a fair chance of succeeding and getting ahead.

Secondly, provide employers incentives to invest not just in skills and attitude development but actual leadership development. Soft skills are really hard! They are also vital in unlocking real growth for professionals within managerial and executive ranks. Providing templates for what the leadership development and mentoring ecosystem could look like would certainly help. Strong leaders, truly strong leaders, help foster growth in a business and with that growth comes more revenue, they both go hand in hand.

Finally, support organizations like GLEAM Network by volunteering with, donating to and supporting with Federal and State Grants. We are from the industry, for the industry and have not only the competence but also the social permission to make an impact. Help!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are so many great leaders that have attempted to define leadership in their own way, each of these definitions in my mind get to the essence of leadership in one way or another. Leadership has meant for me the ability to influence the behaviors of others towards the achievement of a common goal.

I love frameworks to think and innovate around. Leadership frameworks enable perspectives to become teachable, easy to learn from and concrete enough to understand. So here is a framework for leadership that I use:

  1. Trust — Leadership starts with building trust. One needs to have a foundation of trust with those that one is going to influence. People build trust in each other by assessing Character and Competence
  2. Vision — people buy into a vision. They want to be inspired by the promise of a dream and be cautioned by the harsh realities of what it will take to get there. This permeates leadership across business, public service or personal life. For vision to be compelling it helps for it to be supported by a strategy so people know where they are headed and also have an understanding of how they may get there
  3. Structure — people crave some kind of organizing structure to succeed. This may take the shape of an organization structure, may include hierarchies, roles and responsibilities, decision making rights and also what can best be described as operating rhythms and ways of working
  4. Culture — leaders build, nurture and scale culture. Create a climate which leads to people doing the desired thing, the right thing, even when no one is watching!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Here are my top five things:

Dream big and know where you want to go. Especially at early stages of one’s life and career, many people have the tendency of masking their ambitious and hiding their aspirations to avoid coming across as overambitious. Often in organizations, bosses need to hear what their team members aspirations are by way of their career and life goals. I realized that people around me needed to hear that I wanted to eventually transition to general management roles from functional leadership. Once, I started stating this clearly and confidently at every appropriate opportunity, it led to two things for me — first off, a realistic conversation about whether or not I was suitable for general management roles within the organization I was working at, at the time. Secondly and fortunately for me, it also led to a series of opportunities that were made available to me that helped me prepare for the role over time. I find that the more people around you know what specifically you wish to achieve the more likely they are to be able to support you in that journey by way of exposure, experiences, training, coaching, mentoring etc. Being clear about your aspirations is also helpful to flush out any potential misalignment and leads to productive conversations.

Find a Mentor, Sponsor and an Advocate. A mentor — is someone who has already achieved what you want, is someone you trust and someone you can learn from to shorten your learning curve and seek guidance from.

An advocate — is typically someone you work closely with, who understand your strengths and opportunities and will fight your corner, push for you and present your case favorably at every available chance. The reach of an advocate within large organizations is typically limited.

A sponsor — is someone who will open doors for you, invests in your development, set you up for terrific opportunities and roles, speak for you behind your back. The reach and influence of a sponsor tends to be far reaching and very impactful.

I realized over time that having only one of these in my corner was not enough to get ahead at work…I needed to have all three. When I look back, this is one lesson that I definitely think I wish someone had shared pretty early in my career, it would have been a game changer for me!

Sharpen your saw. Life moves at such a fast pace; business moves even faster. We live in a world that gets disrupted with innovation at a speed which is hard to comprehend. I was born in a world where cell phones did not exist and growing up, we did not even have a television in our home until I was in my early teens. The point is that the only way to keep pace and staying relevant as a leader is to constantly keep learning, upskilling and remain perennially curious!

At this stage of my life, I find myself leaning from board colleagues, mentors, podcasts, books and periodicals, webinars and online courses.

Be Authentic. This lesson was taught to me fairly early in life, I struggled to grasp what it really meant! I grew up in a culture and household where approval from one’s figures of authority was super important. That meant constantly trying to understand other expectations and then finding ways of meeting those expectations often at the cost of one’s own thoughts, perspectives and aspirations. I even found success using this formula probably until I got into middle management and then really started stagnating. It dawned upon me at this stage what being authentic really meant. Two wonderful life coaches, Mara and Stephen Kekich of Heartstyles Inc. helped me really start to come to grips with the notion of authenticity and following one’s internal voice and having confidence in who one really is…a lesson I have taken to heart every day.

Express Gratitude. Life is a team sport and it really does take a village to get most things done. Being overt, purposeful and deeply sincere about expressing gratitude is so critical in life. When done right it spreads joy, makes peoples day, reinforces behaviors and encourages people to repeat them. It also leads to nurturing of lifelong relationships and reminds us of how interdependent we all are to each other …the more gratitude I express, the more content and happier I feel and get the sense of spreading warmth and good karma!

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

The mentorship movement I have sparked is the one I would love to fuel over the rest of my life. Each one, teach one. Mentor someone outside of your immediate work setting, outside of even your company and give back to someone willing and motivated to learn and grow. That is what we do at GLEAM Network, open the doors for not just our mentees but also present opportunities for our terrific mentors to be able to give back. I find that I get as much from mentoring someone as I do when I get mentored. Both by way of learning and insights but also by way of feeling that it fills my metaphorical cup!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My first role was of a Room Service Manager at a 500 room, luxury five-star hotel in New Delhi, India. When I walked into my workspace on my first day, having just graduated as an Executive Trainee, I was filled with anxiety and hope. My eyes fell upon this message that I saw in the Room Service Pantry and it said, “Your attitude decides your altitude”. I am not sure where those words came from, but they have stuck with me for over three decades.

The words remind me to take control of any situation that life throws at me, no matter how difficult. I attempt to do this as much as I possibly can by focusing on what I control and that starts with checking my attitude, my mindset. This is a life lesson which is as relevant in ones work situation as it is in one’s personal life. I have been an immigrant twice over, once in the U.K. and the second time when we moved here to the US. Both these great nations presented with my family and I with wonderful life experiences and opportunities but also tremendous challenges in their own right. I would lean back on this mantra time and again and find ways of distancing myself from the situations I found myself in to be able to be self critical of my attitude and set myself in a grounded state of mind to take on any task!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have always been a fan of for-profit businesses that have a purpose and a soul. One such brand that I have admired is Starbucks. For the audacity of its size, its relentless pursuit of social justice and doing right by its employees and its innate ability to reinvent itself time and again. For this reason, I would love to have breakfast and a coffee with Howard Schulz and know that it would be a stimulating conversation!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My preferred social media platform is LinkedIn and I encourage folks to follow me there.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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