Empathy, perseverance and authenticity have always been hallmarks of Alex Rechichi’s leadership style. And, when the restaurant industry was blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic, those qualities took on a new importance.
“A leader’s biggest challenge is easing people’s fears and leading them through the uncertainty, especially while having to make difficult decisions surrounding the well-being of the business,” says Rechichi. “In times like these, leaders must be even more respectful and attentive to the needs of employees, customers and shareholders.”
As president of Oakville, Ont.-based Crave It Restaurant Group, whose brands include Via Cibo Italian Street Food, Bangkok Buri and The Burger’s Priest, Rechichi implemented specific actions surrounding increased communication with all levels of the organization — especially with the frontline staff. “I increased my visibility in the field and took specific action to ensure I was accessible to the entire team 24/7.”
To keep employees keen and motivated during a turbulent period, Rechichi says the company adjusted its goals and re-set targets for the team with the new environment in mind.
“We’ve all had to endure some pain and make sacrifices to ensure the sustainability of the business,” he says. “We took the approach to identify this as an opportunity to double-down on the business and invest in the areas that presented future growth. Once the team understood we would not play victim, they were able to reframe their mindsets and focus on growing now and in the future.”
Despite the uncertain times, Rechichi is constantly expanding his network and connecting with like-minded individuals in order to continue to grow as a leader. “I’m talking with them about the challenges we face. I’ve found that connecting with peers has been instrumental in helping re-set my personal and professional paradigm.”
As the industry continues to change dramatically, he says empathy in leaders has become more prevalent. “There’s a greater understanding amongst leaders that their values and goals must go beyond profits and growth. More leaders are focused on doing what is right for people and the planet and this needs to be the part of the ethos of any brand and its leader.”
Rechichi points to his leadership role models as examples. “Steve Jobs because he did not accept mediocrity and Danny Meyers because he truly is an authentic leader focused on hospitality. He empowers his team to make the guests feel like they truly are in their corner.”
For his part, Rechichi strives to make the best decisions possible for his company, while balancing those decisions with what is best for his team. “The most important decisions revolve around determining what we implement and how it will impact the team and their success. If our people are set up for success, our business will prosper. The most important thing I can do is ensure people are engaged and support our cause.”
He says the biggest mistake leaders can make is to break the trust of their team. “Trust is hard to build and to have it extinguished based on a decision that puts the leader first, ahead of their team, is a huge mistake.”
Although he says he has no regrets about his career choices, Rechichi does have some sage advice for other aspiring leaders. “I try to learn from my mistakes. One lesson I learned from my early years as a leader is the importance of listening more. Listening and asking questions has allowed the team to work things through on their own, rather than immediately giving them an answer.”
Most importantly, he says, “Make sure you make an impact on more than just the business. Use the business to help others or make the world a little bit better.”