Don’t forget that we’re all human. We all have our strengths and skills that get us to our job title but that doesn’t make any of us “better” than anyone else. We are all equal as humans.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denyelle Bruno.
Denyelle Bruno is the President and CEO of Tender Greens, a fine-casual West Coast restaurant concept founded in 2006 that puts an elevated spin on the comfort dishes you love. Each of its 28 kitchens nationwide is run by its own chef who holds food to a higher standard.
Prior to joining Tender Greens, Denyelle spent 20 years in retail leadership roles, most recently as President of Retail Operations at Drybar. A Los Angeles native, she has worked with some of the most renowned brands including Apple, Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Macy’s to name a few. During her time at Apple, Denyelle was one of a seven-member team asked to create a retail experience for Apple Computer, thus creating and overseeing the rollout of the first 25 Apple Stores. At Drybar, she opened 55 locations in just three years all while maintaining the company culture and enhancing the entrepreneurial spirit of the business.
Denyelle is known for taking brands that are already iconic to best-in-class household names that simply cannot be ignored. Under her stewardship, not only is Tender Greens positioned to grow successfully nationwide, but poised to reach the brand’s higher purpose of transforming lives both within the company and its communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Retail offered many opportunities, right out of college. I graduated, from the University of California at Santa Cruz, with a degree in social psychology but I didn’t know what to do with it. I loved learning about people but I didn’t want to go into research nor academics. Like many people, I left college deeply in debt so I needed to get a job right away. I didn’t know it when I started but it turned out that I loved everything about retail. I love merchandising products, developing people, building teams, driving sales and profit. I started in a small management role but I received several consecutive promotions and realised I was good at it and so I stayed. I continued to learn more and take on new challenges.
What I love most about the retail business is that it’s like one big puzzle. All systems from people to technology to processes need to work together for success. I also love that people often underestimate the complexity of the retail model..
Because I’ve worked in so many forms of retail and because I’ve managed almost every job function I know retail really well. I think it gives me a competitive advantage. I don’t know many others in my role who have run everything from operations to marketing to staffing to real estate. The more I learned the more curious I become. Over the years questions like, “what matters most for the success of a retail business: Realestate locations? Branding? Operational executions?” While most will be biased by the function they’re run, I try to stay objective based on what I know about each area..
My career path chose me. I was both skilled enough and lucky enough to work with some of the best brands in the industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve always been in the retail/service business but the product lines I’ve worked with, have spanned dramatically. Each business has brought with it, its own satisfying benefit. Be it getting the first iPod, access to half-off mid-century furniture, free coffee beans or, blowouts on demand I’ve had a lot of great “perks”.
At Tender Greens, this has meant that I’ve eaten some of the best food I’ve ever had the pleasure to try. Because we have so much culinary talent, I eat amazing food and learn or try something new almost daily. Just last week I had dishes that included things like, Fava bean leaves, pea tendrils, chayote squash, and nopales. I stay very involved in our product development, which allows me to stay very close to the guest experience but selfishly it allows me to also eat some truly amazing food.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Because Tender Greens is the only fine casual restaurant with classically trained executive chefs at the helm of each location, we have the unique ability to train a large number of next generation chefs. We have built an internal program that can take someone from a cashier to a chef in about 1 year.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Well, I’d start by suggesting that it isn’t 100% up to any employer to ensure their employees are happy humans. I believe there are a lot of factors outside of work that could contribute to one’s overall satisfaction in any life endeavor.
That said, all else being equal, I think many employers simply don’t consider what it takes for people to be happy and/or satisfied at work.
Most companies focus exclusively on the bottom-line without considering that employee happiness actually has an impact on business results. I’m taking a guess here but I suspect many CEOs and other influential decision makers at the top of the ladder may have gotten there (especially historically) due to hard work and grit. For people who are built for success regardless of their environment, it might be hard to imagine that there are members of the workforce who need an environment that nurtures or supports their growth. I’ve worked with and for leaders who do not think the satisfaction of the employees is their responsibility. Sometimes they believe that just creating a challenging environment should be enough (because maybe that was enough for them).
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
I can’t say for sure if this is from personal experience or research at this point; It’s been so long that the two have sort of bleed together. For as long as I recall I’ve worked from a place of understanding that employee satisfaction and loyalty are tightly correlated to company results. I also happen to have a background in organizational design so I’ve not only seen this in practice but I’m familiar with all the studies that confirm this to be true.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- First and foremost this needs to be part of the fabric of the business. Culture can’t be an add on to the overall business it needs to be part of the strategy
- Be really transparent about the company objectives and make sure each person understands his/her role in the success of the company
- Connect each person’s business goals with his/her personal career goals
- Ensure everyone in every role is extremely qualified and has a great work ethic. This creates more an environment where people can learn from and trust each other. Nothing kills a culture faster than people not pulling their own weight
- Don’t forget that we’re all human. We all have our strengths and skills that get us to our job title but that doesn’t make any of us “better” than anyone else. We are all equal as humans. Maybe that’s obviously but for some executives money or title can “go to their head”. Whenever I witness this it makes me literally sick to my stomach. I came from a very working-class family so I’ve seen people in my own family treated very poorly by their bosses. There is never a reason to be disrespectful or dismissive on anyone who’s part of the team.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
There are systems that “keep people in their place”. I think we need to constantly challenge the status quo. Until there is parity among gender at all levels or until the workforce matches the social and cultural demographics, we are doing something wrong. It means there is, worst case, discrimination or more likely implicit biases that are affecting how hiring and promoting decisions are being made. This needs to be named when it’s happening and it needs to stop. Until the balance is forced shifted, the natural trajectory can’t play out.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I believe, fully, in servant leadership. I consider it my job to set the goals for the company. I hire the right people to do the job and then my only job is to help them remove obstacles for success.
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 about that?
I can’t say that any one individual was responsible for helping me along the way. I’ve worked with a lot of great leaders who I’ve taken qualities from over time.
I’ve had leaders who are all about driving results, which is important. I’ve had leaders who focus entirely on supporting personal and/or career development, also important and I’ve had leaders who are totally hands off visionaries which can be great but only works for certain types of employees (it happens to work for me but some people require more guidance).
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s important to me to challenge the systems that reinforces keeping the same types of people in the decision making seats. At Tender Greens, our goal is for ½ of our executive chefs to be female by the end of 2020. In most restaurants, female executives make up 15–25% of the population.persuade
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is “Question what you think”. The older I get, the more clear it becomes that bias and stereotypes affects so many decisions we all make. My goal is to find “true north” on all decisions.
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. 🙂
My movement would be to abolish the two party political system. It encourages millions and millions of incredibly, unique individuals into one of two categories. We’ve gotten to the point where you’re on one side or the other, period. I find it sad and frankly very, frightening.