Bold Women in the C-Suite: MJ Riva
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Bold Women in the C-Suite: MJ Riva

Bold Women in the C-Suite: MJ Riva

Name: MJ Riva

Brand: Pizza Factory

Title: CEO

Age: 65

Years in franchising: 30+

No. of units: 107

How important is making bold moves in a woman’s path to the C-suite? All leaders should be willing to make bold moves regardless of gender. To me, bold for a woman is speaking up and standing up to have her voice, ideas, and opinions heard. Sometimes you can read a room and quickly identify the climate. I believe in pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Describe bold moves you’ve made in your career. Taking a legacy brand and rebranding it while implementing new programs and technology where there were none. These were huge steps toward what I believed to be necessary for the brand’s evolution.

How did you envision those moves changing the brand? My goal was to make the brand more competitive and relevant to consumers. This would allow us to take it to the next level with new programs and technology for both the corporate office and the franchisees’ locations.

How has your leadership helped evolve the brand? Being a franchisee and franchisor has helped encourage the franchisees to buy into the brand. You will never please everyone, and change isn’t something most people enjoy. But I believe trust is earned, and communication is extremely important to make sure you are transparent with your goals and “why” you are working toward them. Then follow up with the facts that back up the success of your endeavors, or have the humility to embrace when you have not succeeded or have had to choose another path.

Was there pushback? How did you handle that? There can be pushback in certain situations, but keeping an open line of communication and listening to feedback is important, even if you disagree.

How are you imparting a culture of boldness to other women in your organization? I encourage all employees to have a voice in the restaurant and at a corporate level. Education is important as well, not only for the knowledge you will get but for the confidence as well. When drowned out by others’ voices, I encourage women to make their voices heard. Speak up, disagree if you do, and fight harder for your view.

What motivates you as a leader? Challenges drive me, regardless of what they are. I want solutions and push hard to find them, no matter what. I do not like to settle with a “We can’t do that,” or accept when a goal is said to be unattainable from the knowledge we currently have. There are a lot of resources and smart people out there who can help us achieve them.

What are some ways women leaders in franchising can drive change? Women have different styles of leadership. We can bring change by being who we are, encouraging women to go after that job they want and changing the perception that you have to be “hard” to be a good leader, or that you have to push down who you are. Women have the ability to multitask, handle stress, and bring a new approach to leadership.

What role has mentoring played in your career? How did you meet your mentors? Mentors, if they are the right ones, are beneficial when it comes to the times you need someone to talk to and to give advice. They are encouragers, supportive, and hopefully very honest with you. I was very fortunate to have Steve Olson as my mentor, and he had those characteristics.

Describe one of your biggest failures. What did you learn, and how did it contribute to greater personal or business success? I created a team and tried to make it work at the corporate level. I waited too long to remove this team and start over. It wasted time and put the schedule of my goals back a couple of years. I learned I could not make a round peg go in a square hole, no matter how much I wanted it to. Sometimes I allow my compassion to get in the way, and I still work on that, because this is a business.

What is one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make, and how did it affect your life? Becoming CEO of Pizza Factory from the position of a franchisee. I feel responsible for the franchisees and their investments, and it can be very daunting. I am learning, after 10 years, that balance in my personal and business life has to be more equal, which is hard for me. It is difficult to turn it off. My decisions will not be embraced by all, and I am okay with that, but if one struggles I have a hard time accepting that. I want to fix it, but I can’t always fix it. Unfortunately, business success is never guaranteed. These are not just businesses; they are people.

If you could do it all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? I would have had more mentors, go out of my comfort zone, reach out to more people, and build relationships sooner. I would also let go of team members who weren’t a good fit sooner. I would have paced myself better initially, taken more time off, and given myself a break—not from others or the job, but from me I tend to put very high expectations on myself.

What advice do you have for aspiring female leaders? Be yourself, don’t back down, and don’t be intimidated as you make your way. Remember, your physical and mental health is important, and your relationships should be more than just business ones. Be humble and keep a sense of humor—no one does it alone.

Published: May 7th, 2023

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