When professionals demonstrate excellence in their chosen field, they are often promoted to
leadership, leaving behind their foundational expertise and for some, their first love. Some scientists give up the joys of the lab, some physicians the satisfaction of clinical work with patients, some cooks give up the creativity in the kitchen, for leadership or entrepreneurship. Can you have it all? I recently interviewed restaurant co-owner Rob Evans. He and his wife Nancy Pugh own and run the wildly successful Duckfat Restaurant in Portland Maine.
Due to the growth of his restaurants, Rob Evans developed leadership skills which enabled him to move out of the kitchen. He was motivated to learn how to be a good leader to keep serving more customers. Working with consultants from GISC, he deepened his commitment to quality workplace by honing his own management skills. In order to delegate more effectively, he arranged for his managers to develop their leadership skills further as well. Despite a natural tension between the front of the house and the kitchen (in other industries, that tension is between operations and sales) his retention rate is unusually high, over 80% of employees have been there over five years.
Entrepreneur: Return to the First Love
Now in addition to Duckfat, Rob has been called by his love of cooking back to the kitchen. Entrepreneurs are creators and risk takers, and by building a strong management team, Rob was able to consider what else he wanted for his role. Prior to opening Duckfat in 2006 with his wife Nancy Pugh, they owned and managed a high-end restaurant, Hugo’s. So he knows a range of restaurant offerings.
This new opportunity provides space for a production kitchen to support the high volume in the small space of Duckfat. In addition, he has a creative new offering: Duckfat Frites. It is located next to a Brewery, Oxbow, where customers can buy a beer and then order Belgian style Frites to go. The production space is new, the informal partnership with a brewery is new, and the take-out window for Duckfat Frites is new. Entrepreneurs thrive on creativity and all leaders need to find ways to tap into innovation and make time for activities which are energizing.
His motivation? “I wanted to be back in the kitchen, and developing my managers enabled me to do that. Duckfat serves up to 800 customers a day, in peak season. In order to be able to serve that many people, and coordinate our 40 employees, we need a good management structure and systems. We have worked hard to create that. Now I’m ready for a return to the hands-on work in the kitchen.”
The new location, Duckfat Frites, has its own culture. Initially Rob thought it would be a copy of their successful Duckfat culture, but the nature of the work they do, the location and the space have combined to create something different. Still good, still positive and connected, yet with its own flair.Culture is hard to transplant, as any company which has been through a merger can attest. What did transfer was the positive spirit and collegiality.
Some leaders find the move into management to be satisfying expansion of skills, and discover a new passion for strategy, developing others, and leveraging impact. Others long for their prior kind of work, where they had expertise and more hands-on satisfaction. Either one can represent career advancement and development. I’m a fan of playing to strengths, and spending time and energy where there is creativity and passion. That plus focus translates into success, on either path. Some fortunate leaders like Rob Evans find a way to combine both.
Some executives ask, how do I know which would be better? As an executive coach, I have seen that self-reflection has a big payoff. It’s important to nourish what is enlivening, whether that’s through growth, expansion, diversification or a return to your first professional love. For those who invest in reflection and self-awareness, it’s even possible to combine both.