Editor’s Note: This week on CPO Rising, we’re publishing some “best of” 2016 articles as we reflect on the year and prepare for the new year ahead.
Ardent Partners is excited to announce CEO Louie Psallidas as a keynote speaker at the upcoming CPO Rising 2016 Summit this March 29 & 30 in Boston. Louie will present The CEO’s View of Procurement: Strategies to Engage the C-Suite. A common challenge for CPOs is getting a seat at the executive table. As a current CEO and former CFO, Louie has spent his career in the C-Suite. Attendees of event will hear first-hand what a CEO wants from the CPO and what the CPO can do to gain alignment with the CEO, be a better partner with the business, and gain a stronger voice in the C-Suite. CPOs and other procurement executives will not want to miss this exciting session.
Over the last 30 years, Louie Psallidas, President and CEO of Uno Pizzeria & Grill and Boston-area native, has risen up through the ranks of the restaurant industry to lead one of the biggest restaurant brands in the country. He served as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at John Harvard’s Brew House, Papa Gino’s, and Uno’s before ascending to the role of CEO in 2014. His blend of industry experience, financial acumen and operational efficiency, along with an eye for the customer experience, gives him a unique perspective as he leads Uno’s “from two feet over” from his former seat as CFO.
On to the interview….. Earlier this month, we interviewed Louie on his background and career, and heard his thoughts on how and where procurement fits within business today.Today is the first in a two-part Q&A series between Louie and Andrew Bartolini.
Andrew Bartolini: You started as a CPA and, really, ascended to the role of CEO through your CFO and operational experience at a few other firms. But at a higher level, as you reflect back on the arc of your career, could you provide a few milestones or key points along the way that got you to the position at Uno today?
Louie Psallidas: Sure. So, I graduated from Suffolk University in 1985 with a BS in accounting. I spent the first six years of my career at Deloitte and Touche. A lot of what you do as an auditor is you study a company that you’re auditing, and you ask, “Where are my risks?” And you spend a lot more time focused on reviewing risky and subjective areas rather than worrying about the petty cash drawer. And so, from my point of view, at a very early stage, I developed a risk management mindset. From there, hopefully it’s not a very big leap to see how I view the supply chain. I always ask myself, “Where are we vulnerable?” How I feel about that today goes all the way back to 1985 (laughs) when I was at Deloitte and Touche.
At Deloitte and Touche my focus was on M&A and auditing very large companies that you would very easily recognize. From there, I transitioned to the private company side, and spent from 1991 through 2014 in a variety of senior financial/CFO roles, and saw the world through that lens, which very much was a co-pilot mentality. I think that there are two different kinds of CFOs. There are those that are really good accountants. They’re good at compliance: they’re good at ensuring that the books get closed, everything is accurate, and that there are no issues. That’s really important to the CFO’s role.
But I always ask, “What’s the value add? How can I be different?” Because if you can’t be better than everybody else, then you have to be different. For me, it was born out of pure necessity (laughs) for not being the smartest guy in the room. So I wanted to be a different kind of CFO. For me, it meant becoming the co-pilot to the CEO – that’s where the value add was. I got those other things done by always hiring, retaining, rewarding, and coaching the very best people in those roles. And I tried not to micromanage them, but instead, lead them. And that’s what freed me up to be the co-pilot.
AB: Let me ask you, when you made your transition from…or when you expanded your role from CFO to President/CEO, how has the experience of being a CFO helped in your role today?
LP: On my first day at Uno’s eight years ago, I walked into the Monday morning executive team meeting. The CEO sat at the head of the table, and there was only one seat available, and it was the seat to his right. From that point forward, every Monday morning for seven years I sat in that exact seat during our executive meeting. On the first Monday morning that I was CEO, I moved my seat over and I sat at the head of the table. The world looked completely different to me from two feet over to the left. So, the theme of my opening address to the organization a few weeks later at our annual convention was centered around the theme of the view from two feet over. It’s an interesting metaphor. It’s a reminder for me that you can’t just look at things the way you did before. You’re not doing the organization any good by just carrying forward those same points of view. You need to see things from a different perspective. So I always talk about the view from two feet over. And the organization really embraced that as they sort of wondered about what kind of a leader I would be as the former CFO.
You have to be cognizant of the fact that you have to look at things a lot differently. You’ve got to go beyond the numbers. It’s easy if you make every decision based on looking at everything as just a cost. If I spend $6 a pound on salmon today, but then I upgrade to $6.25 a pound for Norwegian salmon, and I look at that 25 cents as nothing but a cost, I think that is going to have detrimental effects long term. Before this call, I had sent an email that had seven or eight items, one of them was switching up salmon, and saying, “Look, which one of these things is just a cost and we won’t get the benefit?” Or, “Which one of these things is a good investment because the guest who buys salmon is going to know that Norwegian salmon is infinitely better than Chilean salmon.” So, that’s the view from two feet over.
AB: That’s great. Do you find yourself leveraging different skillsets more? If you’re looking on the path to the CEO, are there two or three things that you think are the most important things you bring to the job of CEO as a post CFO, or is it just very broad?
LP: I think it’s broad, but for me, I’ve always tried to bring the customer’s view of it. We can talk about board room strategies all day, but at the end of the day, customers don’t care about that. You want to know, “Did we deliver a great experience?” So I spend much more time talking really about two things: one, what customer experience are we delivering? I’ve spent hours talking about all the various investments that we have made this past year and the customer experience. And two, a much bigger discussion around the culture of the organization. What kind of culture are we trying to create for our people? Because that will ultimately transcend to the guest experience.
AB: That’s great. Thanks, Louie…..
Stay tuned for Part II in our series as we learn more about Louie’s perspective on procurement, and its role within business as a strategic partner and risk manager.
Attendees of the CPO Rising 2016 event met Louie last March when they registered for the CPO Rising 2016 Summit – March 29 & 30 (Boston). News about CPO Rising 2017 planned for Boston this Fall will be coming soon.