Bold Women in the C-Suite: Linda Chadwick
Name: Linda Chadwick
Brand: Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard
Title: CEO, President
Years in franchising: 30
No. of units: 550 in 31 states
How important is making bold moves in a woman’s path to the C-suite? It’s less about bold moves, and more about making the right, strategic moves to accomplish goals and achieve success. I believe that it’s important to plan out calculated risks, outside-the-box thinking, and evaluate risk and reward in elevating your business. This is an integral part of leadership.
Describe bold moves you’ve made in your career. Appearing on CBS’s “Undercover Boss” earlier this year to get an inside look at some of Rita’s locations. As a result, I was able to award life-changing opportunities to these entrepreneurs and their staff, plus gain insight into areas of opportunities to create initiatives that will benefit the entire system in the future. This gave me an opportunity to walk in our customers’ shoes so to speak, to understand and witness their challenges, and that drives me every day. The insights I gained from this experience have motivated not only me, but the entire team, to continue to collaborate, learn, and drive solutions faster and more efficiently.
Our technology road map implementation was a bold move for us. The decision to initiate new and inventive ways of how we interact with our guests through our new app and bringing that technology to life was an important initiative that continues to evolve and elevate. Once we took the first step and created some wins, the team was even more confident to continue this quest.
Implementing a new look for the brand is another initiative we are undertaking. I have had success in previous roles and companies I’ve been involved with. Again, it’s not really about being bold, it’s more about the right strategic moves and calculated risks that will reward the brand that keeps guests coming back.
How did you envision those moves changing the brand you were with? Ultimately the reward is to achieve stronger sales and profits for our franchisees. Guest satisfaction that keeps guests engaged and coming back was our overall goal that we were able to achieve. With great teamwork, having clear expectations, and paying attention to the data, the team was able to surpass our expectations.
How has your leadership helped evolve the brand? Our focus of adding a drive-thru option to walk-up locations has been a strong revenue builder. Our digital-first strategy and launch of the new mobile app for customers—which has upgraded the consumer experience and encouraged repeat business—has been successful, and we expect continued success.
Building a strong employee culture was at the top of the list, so our team can be proud of what they achieved and see positive results. They are the reason for the success we’ve achieved. We launched our Rita’s Way program 3 years ago. The program highlights 34 fundamentals that we live by every day in all of our actions. I am very proud of this shift. Without a strong culture, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
I am so proud of our roots and how the Rita’s brand is nearly four decades strong. I believe that it’s very important to continue to grow and yet stay true to our iconic red-and-white awning and our walk-up window, both of which are nostalgic brand attributes. This look and feel keeps guests on the lookout for the red-and-white awning when they travel. This consistency has helped spread brand awareness and built loyalty from customers across the country.
Was there pushback? How did you handle that? I wouldn’t describe it as pushback. It’s about collaboration and communication, about sharing the vision, the expectations, and incorporating feedback. Is it always easy? No. However inclusiveness with the franchisees is so important. At the end of the day, it’s their business and they want to continue to grow, but we are in this together. For me and the team, it is so important to be able to understand the franchisees’ perspective and walk in their shoes.
How are you imparting a culture of boldness to other women in your organization? We have a formal mentorship program. We encourage being bold, which we identify as sharing your goals and asking for what you want. Women have to be encouraged to speak up, to let their voices be heard. It’s such a thrill for me to witness individuals flourish. As an organization we participate in Linkage by encouraging women leaders to attend the Women in Leadership conference and take advantage of their educational programs.
What motivates you as a leader? I have a strong passion for franchising. Franchise businesses are throughout our neighborhoods, which many people don’t realize. They provide job opportunities, give back to their communities, and grow their economic footprint. I don’t take that lightly. As a leader, I’m motivated by leading a team that “brings it” every day. Their enthusiasm to deliver their best every day makes us stronger as an organization. I’m proud of their accomplishments and excited to continue to watch them grown and develop as individuals.
What are some ways women leaders in franchising can drive change? I feel every woman leader in franchising should network. The Women In Leadership network is a valuable resource. Networking is an important part of growing as a leader. Unfortunately, so many women are apprehensive or feel they don’t have enough time, but it really should be looked at as an opportunity to learn and develop, to discover what skills you need for growth. There are so many willing to help you on your journey. Don’t be afraid to ask
What role has mentoring played in your career? How did you meet your mentors? I’ve had many mentors throughout my career. I am very grateful for every single one of them and the wisdom they shared with me. Sometimes I was not very quick to implement their advice, as it often meant stepping out of my comfort zone. When I did step out of that zone, it was just fine and allowed me to take more risks. As a woman, the best advice I was given, and it’s still true today, is to learn how to say “No” and not feel guilty about it. My favorite quote that resonates with me, especially as a female, is by Eleanor Roosevelt. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” We all need to quiet our inner critic, because if you’re feeling inferior it’s because you’re allowing someone to make you feel that way.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What did you learn, and how did it contribute to greater personal or business success? Early on, one of my failures as a mom, wife, and career person was trying to do everything myself. I guess I thought I had to be Superwoman. I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t take the time to recharge myself, and I learned the hard way that I wasn’t effective trying to take on everything alone. I didn’t say ‘no’ and, as a result, I acted like the victim. From that experience, I learned that I can’t do everything all at once and do it well. I share that experience with young moms who are raising a family, taking care of parents, and trying to do it all, too.
If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I would ask for help earlier in navigating my career goals. Life’s a journey, it’s not perfect. We aren’t perfect as individuals. I wouldn’t change anything along the way. As long as we can laugh at ourselves, have fun, and bring others along with us, then it’s a great journey.
What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders? Spend time with yourself, thinking and planning. I find it very valuable to shut out all the noise and map out a time to think, plan, and develop strategy for execution. For me, I go away and spend a couple of days so I can focus. That may not be practical for some, but I encourage you to do whatever it takes to shut off all the noise and focus on what’s your next step, your next action, to be a better you and stronger leader. Enjoy the journey!
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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 1, 2023