Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with
helps you in your leadership.
Name: Eric Martino
Organisation: Culture Hospitality Group
Eric Martino has worked in the restaurant industry for over twenty-five years. He was formerly the Chief Operating Officer of José Andrés Group, where he was responsible for managing two hundred million dollars in underlying revenues, leading and serving over two thousand team members in over nine major markets globally. Eric has worked in collaboration and partnered with top-level hotel luxury groups in deploying robust and remarkable F&B programs. Prior to serving as the COO at JAG, he was the Director of Operations for M Street Entertainment Group, as well as the owner, manager, and more of other establishments in the hospitality industry. Eric’s culinary background as a chef helps bridge the gap between front and back-of-house operations. He has created concepts on the back of a napkin, which he fostered into becoming successful endeavors that measured sales and profits. Eric is passionate about connecting with people and serving as an advocate, coach, resource, and motivator for other restaurateurs.
“My motto is to seek to understand so you can be understood, and by doing so you can provide the right information, education, and inspiration.”
Eric and his wife, Katherine, share a dedication to personal fitness and believe that everyone deserves to make time for their health and well- being. Together they run Martino Fit, a fitness coaching company. They have three children and call Washington, D.C. their home. Maintaining a proper fitness regimen in this industry is key to providing the right energy and unlocking boundless potential.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
Some of the most challenging aspects of being a leader has been adaptability and flexibility. The business landscape is constantly evolving, and leaders must be able to adapt to change. They need to embrace new technologies, respond to market shifts, and navigate unexpected challenges. This requires flexibility, agility, and the ability to make quick adjustments while keeping the team focused and motivated. Its easy for a leader to change their mind but we must think 4 steps ahead on how the ripple effect will impact the ket stakeholders on the team.
Another challenge is simply time management. Leaders often face competing priorities and numerous responsibilities. Effective time management is crucial to ensure that important tasks are completed, while also providing guidance and support to team members. It can be challenging to balance strategic thinking, operational tasks, and the need to be available for team members. You can plan for the best and well executed day but inevitably, you will have fires and need to pivot to meet the demands of the day. Remaining unflappable is key in ensuring you and your team does not feel the stress. I am a habitual note taker, this is to ensure that if I do get pulled into something I hadn't plan, I can reprioritize and remember where I was when I had to pivot my energy and focus.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I became a leader literally the day my mom came to pick me up from school when I was in kindergarten. As my mom was coming into the classroom, I had over heard my teacher Mrs. Rawlings tell my mom how I responded to a fire drill we had that day. Apparently, as the alarm sounded, I calmly went around to everyone and helped them form a single line and organized them by the door to evacuate. I overheard my teacher telling my mom what I had did to make order out of chaos. She had mentioned that "I was a natural born leader and even in a disaster I would be able to help everyone find their way." Those words would go on to stick with me and I would use that as my beckon of light and North Star no matter the situation. Young minds are impressionable and its imperative we feed the right message.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Every Sunday I typically organize my day by One Note. Going day by day listing out any meetings or events I have. From there I have my daily routine which is up at 630am. I cold plunge in 34 degree water for 3-5 minutes. I then will make a coffee and review yesterday's performance.
I am in the restaurant business so I review each restaurants sales, reviews and overall operation performance. I send questions if needed to any of the teams and then I head to the gym around 8am. I am a firm believer that if you dont fill your own bucket, you cannot fill anyone else's.
My morning routine is how I fill my bucket so I can be of service to those stakeholders around me. After the gym around 9am, I head into work and begin my day. Conducting meetings, Strat sessions, listening in on department meetings or whatever that day calls for. I take lunch around 1/130pm if possible and its typically in one of the restaurant I oversee. This helps with observation of service and the experience as well as connecting with team. Around 230pm its taking more calls and meetings and then around 6pm I will do a couple of rounds of walking the restaurants to check in with the other teams.
Sometimes we special events or certain VIPs that are in the restaurants dinning that night and I will stop by to engage with them for a bit. Around 8/830pm, I head home and spend time with my wife and 3 kids, tuck them in and then finish any administrative work I didn't get a chance to earlier in the day as well as answer emails. I answer and check emails only at 7am, 1pm, 4pm and then again around 9pm.
I dont get bogged down in email land. I could spend my whole day just responding to emails that would never get me anywhere. I think many people mistake activity for productivity and answering emails is one of those examples. Around 11/1130pm I head for bed.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
A good lesson that I am constantly reminded of is that people only know what they know. We cannot assume that just because we know how to do a specific task or how to address a certain situation that the people we are leading and serving know how to take on that task as well. As a leader, you have to be clear of what your ask is in addition to your expectations of those you lead. It can be very easy for the individual you are leading to be confused or not understand the reason why they are being asked to do something, let alone what the measured success is.
To be clear, is to be kind and all this comes with constant and crystal clear communication. To expand on proper communication, I always ensure I have 3 specific elements in communicating to my teams, whither is through email, in a meeting or just simply a one on one. The 3 fragments are Inform, Educate and Inspire. If your message embodies those 3 key elements, then you are sending the right message in the right context.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. I teach a leadership course that factors in a a lot of these principles and I hand every new managers who takes the leadership class his book. The message is simple yet dynamic. There are 5 levels of leadership and no matter where you are in the organization there is a level to which you are at.
Conversely, when you start at a new organization, there is a level for which you certainly are at and what you need to do to advance to the next level . The 5 levels are Position, Permission, Production, Reproduction and Pinnacle. The first step and rule in leadership anytime you begin a new role, bring on a new team member or start with a new organization is Position.
This means you are the leader only of your title which gets you about as far as the front door. The second step is Permission. This means you have earned the right to lead your team or organization, and this can take a fair amount of time and really are no shortcuts. The third step is Production which means you have generated measurable and quantified results in various ways.
The Fourth step is Reproduction which means you have developed someone or a team that makes positive contributions to the organization. The 5th and final step in the 5 Levels of Leadership is Pinnacle which means you have developed other leaders who have developed other leaders who are contributing positive results and making value add impact.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
The advice I give and would give is "seek to be understand so you can be understood". As a leader, we can sometimes jump to conclusions when we don't have all the facts and figures to make an intelligent decision or create an actionable item from the situation. When we do our due diligence in the matter and seek to understand the situation then we can intelligently put together a plan that's makes us understood.
One more piece of advice is to always be the student and never stop learning.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I was making my rounds observing service and I watched a server come up to the expo and talk to the chef about a request a guest wanted to make on a specific dish.The dish was scallop saltimbocca which is sea scallops wrapped in pancetta bacon that is sous vide and seared, typically topped and drizzled with an olive oil lemon preserve and served over broccoli rabe. Its delicious but that's besides the point! I observed the server explaining to the chef that the lady that is at table 43 does not want pancetta and asked that we remove it.
The chef smirked and said no, they can eat it the way I made it.. I am not removing it, tell her to order something else if she doesn't want it. At this point, the chef did not know I was standing behind a wall and out of sight, but I was curious on how this situation would unfold. Instead of interrupting and playing captain save the day, I wanted to really understand his thought process and how this would play out.
The server replied, “ok, i will go tell her no, then”.. As the server was pulling away to deliver the crushing news, I pulled in front of the expo line and asked the chef to speak with him. I said, chef, do you have scallops in the house? He replied, “yes”.
I then replied, then can you not sear them with-out the pancetta and make the dish the way the guest would like without compromising the integrity of the dish? He said, “technically, yes, but that's not the way I want to see the dish go out”.. I then replied, “Then please take your apron off and go to table 43 and let the woman know personally that you will not accommodate her and are not talented enough to cook her the dish as she is requesting.”
He gave me a very ponderous look as you can imagine. There was silence, then an acknowledgement and he then proceeded to make the dish the way the early 70’s woman requested. Needless to say, she was delighted and wrote an incredible review.
The philosophy in hospitality is, “the answer is yes, what is the question”? If you have that attitude towards the service you are striving to execute the doors of success forcefully open. There are no rules or stop signs when it comes to hospitality only. It’s an express lane of green lights and open highway to the promised land of an exceptional, memorable experience.