Failure is an option

The last advice you’d expect to hear from a power panel of public company CEOs is to fail. But when leaders from Bloomin’ Brands, Dunkin’ Brands and Brinker International took the stage at the 2014 Restaurant Leadership Conference, they all extolled the benefits of bombing. Badly. Here’s what each said they’d learned from failing:

“Sometimes you have to kill your babies.” Nigel Travis, Dunkin’ Brands (Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins)

“If you come up with something you love that doesn’t work, kill it,” said Travis. When he ran Blockbuster, Travis said, he tried to establish a foothold in Germany. The country wasn’t receptive to the movie-rental business, and he had to shut it down eventually. “At Dunkin’, what works now may not work five years from now. One of the essential traits of leaders is to be humble.”

“Fail faster.”Elizabeth Smith, Bloomin’ Brand (Outback, Carrabba’s, Roy’s, Fleming’s) 

Smith maintains a public “wall of shame” outside her office at Bloomin’ headquarters to chronicle her mistakes for the benefit of her team. “It’s so important to teach your failures,” she said in a rare public appearance. “When I’ve failed is when I’ve been too insular.” In her past lives at Kraft and Avon, management often paid more attention to themselves and lost sight of their customers, she said. “You can’t simply pay attention to the infrastructure of your company … you have to look outward and put the customer at the center. Find out what it is that the customer wants. Flip the lens if you find yourself looking inward.”

“Make sure everyone is on board.”Wyman Roberts, Brinker International (Chili’s, Maggiano’s)

“Keep your team aligned with your vision,” said Roberts. At Chili’s, he was initially gung ho for such changes as revamping the menu, but the entire company wasn’t on board. What he learned was how important it is to make sure everyone is aligned, engaged and moving forward on the same page. —Patricia Cobe


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