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The Talent Playbook Podcast Series Premiere

With Host Jason Ferrara, Chief Marketing Officer at OutMatch

And Guest Bill Streitberger, Chief People Officer at Logan’s Roadhouse

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Jason: Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Talent Playbook Podcast. My name is Jason Ferrara, and I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at OutMatch and your host for the podcast. Our podcast really focuses on strategies for transforming your world of work. During each podcast, we’re going to highlight someone who has transformed their organization or industry in a significant way.

Today’s guest is Bill Streitberger, the Chief People Officer of Logan’s Roadhouse. Welcome Bill. Thanks for being here. During our time today I wanted to go through a number of questions that range from the personal to the professional. Before I get into all those questions I thought it would be nice to give the listeners a glimpse into Logan’s Roadhouse. Can you tell us a bit about Logan’s Roadhouse, the restaurant itself and the demographics of the business?

Bill: We operate 190 company owned restaurants, and about 25 franchises across the country. Steakhouse, midsize, casual with the road house feel. So it’s very casual, fun and upbeat. Logan’s has been around for quite a while and has gone through quite a few changes. We’re doing a lot of investment in the business right now, not only on the food side, but with people, and especially on technology and the buildings.

It’s a fun place, with a lot of great people helping us grow the business, and the guests have been very excited about all the things that we’re doing so can’t beat that.

Jason: Tell me a little bit about your role as Chief People Officer. In general, and at Logan’s Roadhouse, does a chief peoples officer do something that is different than a company you’ve been at in the past?

Bill: With Logan’s, I partner with the CEO on the board on what we need to grow the business, our people and our people systems. But also, really partner with the operator on what they need in the business to help grow and take care of the folks and take care of the guests.

Under this office you have everything from the talent side, which is recruiting retention, learning and development which is not just the training we do for a new hire, whether it’s a new cook or a new manager, but also that ongoing development; that career development aspect of it so we can continue to grow our talent internally.

Also we have Risk, which is workers compensation and general liability, you know protecting that piece of the business and when things don’t go exactly the way we want inside. And then also total rewards, which is compensation benefits so that we’re paying people fairly, accurately, with good incentives. As well as benefits to take care of our folks, not only on the medical side, but also 401K looking down the road to the future.

It’s all encompassing with the people aspect of how we run our business and how we take care of our folks. Also, government relations, which is hard to get away from because they impact just about everything we do, from wage issues, benefit issues and things of that nature.

Jason: And the role that you have today with all these different functional areas within human resources, the human capital function, is that similar to roles you’ve had in the past or are you taking on more here at Logan’s than you had in the past? Was there a part of this that a different group had at a different company?

Bill: A lot of it is the same, but what is different here is this is more of a turnaround situation. So you work a little bit closer with the people on finance, our board, and the investment bankers and so forth. It helps broaden the experience and the skills that you use because you’re taking on more responsibilities with the board and with investors on just about every move you make. Whereas before you would report it to your CEO and CFO and that would be it. It’s actually taking it a few steps above that which makes it a lot more fun.

Jason: Yeah that added interaction with the board is something I have as a part of this role, and it is not only a great experience but it’s interesting to see the company from someone else’s eyes.

Tells us a little bit more about how the board sees the organization and what you’ve learned from those interactions.

Bill: They’re really excited about what they’re seeing with this. We have a lot of positive things going on, and their investment in us. But in this crazy economy and with what’s going on in casual dining we have great track and growth on guest counts, and the guests have been really responsive in the changes in the menu, and how we’re running the business. The board has been extremely pleased with what they’ve seen out of us, and are excited to do more. If anything, we have to harness that and not move too fast, and start tripping over ourselves. Change is always good, but you want it to be a controlled change.

Jason: Right. You’ve got to give some of that change time to work. You want to do something positive for the business and then make sure that you see it through.

Tell us what a day in the life is like for you. I don’t know if it’s possible to focus on all those things every single day, but I’m sure you have a lot of different things that pull you in different directions. Take us through a day in the life from the moment the alarm clock goes off.

Bill: My alarm clock is a 100 pound Great Pyrenees, and my day usually starts around 4:00-4:30am when he decides he has to go outside; he wakes me up to go with him. Then there’s some quiet time in the morning with the coffee, going through e-mails from everything overnight, seeing what’s happened, what do we need to do.  A To Do list. I always want to have one every day on what I need to do.

During different times of the year I’ll take on different types of needs, with open enrollment on benefits, to planning compensation, to end of the month financials. And then just seeing what is waiting for me every morning, because something might have happened overnight.

We just experienced a hurricane down in Texas, and that changed everything, so how we respond to our people and our restaurants down there. You have to be pretty nimble. You can have a To Do List, but sometimes you don’t even get to it, because something comes up that you have to address right away. And just setting time aside with my team, with one on ones. Making sure I’m in touch with them; what are they doing, what’re their goals, what do they need, what are their challenges? Staying in touch with them as well as the operators and my friends over in finance and IT.

It’s constantly moving. I’m not a big meeting guy but they’re a necessary evil, so we jump from one to the next, but it’s always looking ahead. What do we need to get through today, but also by doing that how are we preparing ourselves for the future and down the road? Always looking ahead.

Jason: You mentioned a couple of things I’d love to follow up on. One is your team. Would you describe the people on your team, since you’re new at this role, were they people who were there when you came? Did you bring in new people on the team? Give us a description of what the team looks like.

Bill: Most of them were there, but I did bring in Lisa Rector on the total rewards, and she was a great addition to the team. But most of them were here. I like to get in and note people and help bring them along. They’ve got a wealth of experience in the industry. But more importantly also within the concept that I am just learning, so I rely on them quite a bit, and help bring them along, and then what can I do to help grow their careers as well.

Jason: How many people are on your team right now?

Bill: With direct reports I have 5, but there are 30 folks under the umbrella.

Jason: That’s a big team, and I’m sure they keep you on your toes.

Operators was the next thing that I wanted to talk about. You’ve got your immediate team but you probably think about operators as people on the team too. So what kind of daily interaction do you have with the operators?

Bill: It’s constant. We communicate via phone, e-mail, text, depending on what’s going on in a particular market. If there’s a role out in the menu, or a new initiative that we’re pushing forward on. Again, they’re more than a partner, they’re also our guests. They’re the only ones in the company who actually make money. We spend a lot, but they’re the ones that drive it, so we want to make sure that they’re as prepared as they can be, they have the tools to do their jobs, and also the people to do their jobs.

Jason: You had mentioned the hurricane recently in Houston. What has that experience been like, and what were the last several days like?

Bill: Probably five days ago it became imminent that it was going to hit the south coast of Texas where we have many restaurants. So to prepare them we have a check-list that they go through to prepare their building, prepare their people, communications, product and so forth. Yesterday we had only six closed, but we got it down to three. Now we’re preparing repair folks to go in for clean-up, getting things back up and running. Our suppliers have already been in contact with us to get products in so we can start serving our guests as quickly as possible.

This whole time we’re on the phone with our managers, and they’re on the phone with their team members. What do we need? There are people who have lost their homes, or cars. We have an outreach program here called Logan’s Love which is funded by contributions from all of our team members and we have a process that we go through to determine people who are in dire need of some help. Whether it be temporary housing, medical bills, things of that nature.

We’re in the process now of collecting that information of who’s in need so we can get some help to them financially, as well as getting them back to work so they can earn more money.

Jason: This notion about serving the guests is very important. There are probably people who need meals and want food and that sort of thing, but then also the notion that your employees are in the same position.

Bill: That and then too helping the first responders. We took food over to a police station, and they guys are very grateful and they hadn’t eaten in 24 hours because their schedule has gone nuts. So it’s thinking about the community as well on how can we help them, while they’re helping us.

Jason: Before I began working at OutMatch and spent so much time with people in the restaurant industry, I was not thinking as much about the impact on the community and obviously you think about that all day long, but that is a real piece of your business. How your restaurant impacts the community, so that’s really great that you’re doing those things.

Bill: Well we want to help and give back and help in any way we can, especially in times like this. Because regardless of what sign you have out front we’re all in this together, and we’ve got to get through this together.

Jason: That speaks a lot about the types of employees you have. What makes someone successful as a Logan’s Roadhouse employee?

Bill: They love this business first and foremost. We’re here to take care of folks, we want to have fun and with any role I imagine you really have to be successful; you really have to love what you do. And that’s what we look for. That excitement and that energy of people coming into all roles within the building. And they like what we’re trying to, they like entertaining, and they like the fast pace.

Those are things that are going to make you successful in any position here is love of the business, love taking care of people, love being around people but also high energy and fast pace because things happen very quickly in our business and you’ve got to be on your feet and think on your feet.

Jason: What are the keys to finding people who have those characteristics? You probably interview people, but tell us about that selection process a little bit.

Bill: Some of it is during an interview process, this interaction of looking and talking to them. Watching them as you interact with them. We also get a lot of our hires from referrals and so people tend to refer people in their own image. Those people who tend to fit that mold tend to refer those folks.

With OutMatch we do assessments and we measure that as well. These are all pieces to the puzzle when we make a hiring decision, as well as looking at their backgrounds, their experience and what do they bring to the table. Just getting a feel for that energy level of what are they going to bring to the table.

Jason: You mentioned learning and development as well, so that’s a whole part of the continuum as well. Do you have certain key metrics that you look at to understand the employees side of the business? Other than talking to operators about how are things going and how is scheduling and are people working out. Are there certain metrics you look at all the time to understand the business?

Bill: The success on the people’s side is looking at staffing levels, but also looking at turnover. We look at a trailing 12 and a trailing 3 months by restaurant, by position, by tenure. We’ll cut data a lot of different ways, but we’re looking for trends. What’s working for us on the tenure side, and then on turnover what isn’t working and what can we learn from that.

We measure churn, which is moving people around restaurants; mainly managers. What we’ve learned from decades in this business is that the higher you churn, meaning the more you move managers around in the system, the higher your hourly turnover goes; it’s change.

Those are some of the things we look at right off the bat.

And we measure sales and monitor guest counts. If sales and guest counts are going up, our folks are making more money and they’re happier and they do a better job taking care of the guests.

Jason: In your career in the restaurant industry, have you always looked at those same key metrics or have those evolved overtime. When you first started were metrics as big of a thing as they are now?

Bill: I think they’ve evolved over time. A lot of it because of technology. It has developed so much over the last 30 years that you have more data available that you can work with now. Not to sound like a numbers geek, but there’s a story there always. Now that technology and the ease of use of getting this data and going through it, we’re able to look at things and try to correlate. I talked about with turnover where we looked at tenure and by position, but then we started matching that with assessment results. We look at check average; high check average tends to stay longer than low check average.

Some of it can be very simple but we have more data available to us now. I’m sure it will continue to evolve.

Jason: Who on your team is responsible for taking all of that data in, analyzing it, making sense out of it and then putting it into a format to present that back to the team?

Bill: I have an HR analyst, April, that has been elected to be the keeper of all our data and she does a wonderful job. She’s very patient, she understands the business, which is always important. She has a degree in mathematics, so she is in love with numbers. She loves when we come down and say, “Hey we need to look at something different, or we’re looking for a trend.”

Over the years we’ve grown to make sure that we look at systems and technology granted, but a specific person to be an HR analyst to take this data and help us interpret it and do some data mining as well. She’s a key part of the team.

Jason: Was she part of the company before you joined, or did she bring her in separately?

Bill: She was already here, and has been with the company quite a while. She started off in IT, and knows all the systems and gravitated over to some other roles. After talking with her in some meetings I thought, “You’re in the wrong seat in the bus.” People were talking about needing this type of data, and these types of reports and so it was kind of a nudge to move her over to our side. And she was excited.

I’m sure she’s had some rough days because we’re building these things as we go. These reports and these numbers. But she has stepped up to the challenge and has helped me as well, because she knows the history of Logan’s. She has given a color to what we’re trying to interpret.

Jason: I was giving a presentation the other day to a number of recruiters and talent acquisition managers and I asked them if they knew where to find data. It was one of those where maybe a quarter of them felt confident they knew where to go. My suggestion was go to the IT team, because someone there knows where all that data is, so you just have to find the person.

Bill: It’s there, but it’s what to do with it. And then don’t overload the operators with it either. What are the critical points that are going to help you drive the business and drive success, as opposed to a big data dump. Helping to interpret that and showing the path of here’s what you’re doing right and here are some things we’re going to need to work on.

Jason: Right. A restaurant operator is not a data analysis, and a data analysis is not a restaurant operator.

Bill: It’s upon us to not only find it, but also interpret it for them.

Jason: How did you get into the restaurant business?

Bill: By accident. I was in college, I graduated from the University of Central Florida down in Orlando, and the need came up. I needed to pay for school, and one of the fraternity brothers told me to go out because they needed help at Disney. I went out there, got a job, started bussing tables, quickly got into waiting tables, did that all the way through college, which helped pay for it. I met my wife there, and eventually got out and never looked back; I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since.

There’s an old saying that says, “It gets in your blood” and part of that is true. Every day is different. I’m meeting a lot of people, there’s a lot of change; it’s fast paced. I have some good friends I went to college with and they’re in banks and jobs like that which are all very important. I spend most of my time trying to get out of the office and moving around and seeing things; that’s the excitement of this industry.

We have our ups and downs, but it’s the pace and variety of things that I just find real exciting that a lot of my friends will see in their businesses.

Jason: Well we have something in common: I too met my wife in a restaurant, so that’s clearly a good place to meet your spouse.

You’ve been in the restaurant business most of your career. I know you were in a start-up for a period of time. Can you tell us a little bit about leaving the operations part, going into the startup and what was that experience like for you?

Bill: Well it was a dot Com, but still related to the restaurant business on the delivery side. It was back in the dot Com days when the economy was really booming, and it was a risk but we got off to a great start, we bought over 50 delivery companies across the country, built out the service platforms, the technology, the call center, made a lot of progress that first year, and were going out for that second round and 9-11 hit and the money just dried. That’s why I’m an millionaire; it was going great, and then just faded away.

But it was an exciting experience and you look at the business from the outside in, instead of always being a part of it, and look at restaurants as clients as opposed to competitors. Again, working with capitalists and so forth is a big education because things move extremely fast.

Jason: What specifically are lessons you learned back in that start-up period that you actually still actively use today and recognize as lessons from that period?

Bill: I listen a lot more to financial people than I had before. They too look at numbers and have trends and they understand the market really well too. What are some potential pitfalls, how to prepare for them for the business and the people as well. That’s where I started getting more and more involved in technology. I saw how they were utilizing the numbers, and the technology that they were utilizing and I thought that this had to transfer over to our part of the world as well.

I started learning more and more about how to use it, where to get the data, and then how to analyze it. What are you really looking for? Not just to crunch numbers, but what is it that you’re looking to see so that you can help the folks in the restaurants so that you can help the folks in the restaurants build and grow their business.

Jason: That’s a great lesson, and the data part of the business is really important. I’ve seen that in my career, and my friends, where you get to a certain point in your career and all of a sudden the answer is within the data instead of within your gut. So, you make this transition of talking about the data.

You’ve worked for the same CEO a couple of times, so tell me a bit about how that developed and why you’ve chosen to do that.

Bill: Initially I was contacted about an opportunity with an organization in Nashville and it sounded nice but I was happy where I was at and what I was doing and he was persistent, so I thought it was always networking so I met him. We got to know each other a little bit, had a great conversation and he has a passion with this business, but I think that’s something that’s very important with not only who works with me but who works above me as a boss. It got me really excited. It was a turnaround, but I went ahead and came to town and we had a great time. We turned around 5 different concepts and had a lot of success.

Currently with Logan’s he had an opportunity to become a part of the ownership here and we started talking that this is what we want to do. There was passion, excitement and a lot of hard work doing turnaround. We had a great work rapport before and he’s the type of guy that listens very well, and for an HR person that’s important. I spend a lot of money and have had bosses that look at you, but I work on an ROI of everything that we do and he liked that.

We have some pretty intense conversations, but it’s never personal. We’ll go out and have a beer afterwards and laugh about it, but he allows you to express yourself in a way and not have to stifle it. If you’re truly passionate and believe in something he wants to know about it. Both of us are always looking out for what’s best for the business and what’s best for the employees.

Jason: You’ve said about listening to finance, listening to operators, listening to the team and now we’re talking about the CEO whose focus is to listen to you and to listen to others in the business. And I see that as a real positive thing.

Bill: I’ve also been married for 40 years and listening was very important to making that happen as well.

Jason: As is with any healthy relationship.

So what do you do when you’re not at work?

Bill: Well I spend a lot of time out running and hiking with my dog Charlie. Trying to do things outside; I recently took up fly fishing with my wife, which is exciting. We love being outside and whether it’s running, biking, skiing. Our three kids are grown and now we have grandkids so we spend as much time as we can with them as well. Family is a big part of our life, always has been, and that’s part of what we do.

Jason: That’s great. Fly fishing is pretty fun and can take up a lot of time. Have you started tying your own flies yet?

Bill: No, that’s why I wear glasses. That wouldn’t be healthy. But it is a lot of fun; it does take a lot of patience, but it’s a great experience.

Jason: Right.

I wanted to ask one more question. The final question here: what piece of advice would you give to people starting their careers?

Bill: Find what your passion is. A lot of folks will worry about the money, and yes, we’ve got to pay our bills, but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing and in love with it and work hard at it, the rest will take care of itself. But truly find what you want to do and follow that; pursue that path.

Also in today’s world, our world has changed so much in the 20+ years and technology is a piece of that. Not just being good on Facebook, but understanding where technology is taking you because in all disciplines it makes your life easier, it can make your life better at what you do, but it’s understanding it and following those trends.

I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I still go tech conferences, and I still get involved with new things. I’ve got adult children and we communicate on Instagram and Facebook and trying to keep up with them drives me too. But I think it’s very important to love what you do and who you’re with but also technology can really make things easier for you.

Jason: That’s great advice.

Thanks for taking the time to do this and share with us; it’s really important and what we were hoping to get.

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