Ron Shaich’s theory on CEOs

The 36-year leader of Panera Bread Co. figures he was the longest-serving CEO of a public restaurant company—“longer than Howard,” he says, referring to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz.

“It’s been a journey of learning,” he says. “About what makes consumers work, about learning about myself in a very intense way. How do you lead an organization of 100,000 people?”

The process has forged a well-defined idea of what a CEO should be and do.

“The job is to figure out where the world is going, and to be there ahead of everyone,” he says. “There’s a dynamic process. One, you start by telling yourself the truth. ‘Where are we at? No baloney.’ The key is telling yourself the truth.

“Second, what’s going to matter in three and four years? Most of the time we rush to judgment because something doesn’t work. But will it work three or four years in the future?

“Once we commit to what matters—no BS—we make sure to get it done.”

A common failing: “We as leaders don’t take enough time to learn. The one thing that I don’t think we learn and value enough is empathy. We don’t feel what the customer feels.”

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