Female Fast Risers - Mandy Shaw
Name: Mandy Shaw
Brand: Blaze Pizza
Title: President, CEO
Years in franchising: 16
No. of units: 340
What attracted you to franchising? I’m a firm believer in the American Dream, and the franchise model paves the pathway to entrepreneurship. The ability to invest in a proven business model has made owning your own business incredibly more accessible to millions of people, and the excitement of opportunity is a driving force behind my love of franchising. Additionally, while there are so many different types of franchise businesses, the restaurant space is truly remarkable in creating opportunities for anyone to turn their entrepreneurial dreams into a reality. In food service, you can work your way up from an entry-level position to management and beyond without requiring higher education, or outside training, simply through hard work and determination. The alignment between the franchise model and the restaurant segment is unlike that in any other industry, and I’ve always been drawn to it.
What was your first job in franchising? It was at Bloomin’ Brands, one of the world’s largest casual dining companies, whose brands include Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill. Throughout my 13-year tenure with the company, I served as chief accounting officer, chief information officer, and chief financial officer of the international division.
What do you attribute your success to? To the following three fundamental factors. These three attributes have not only guided me throughout my career, they also are the foundation of every leadership and management team I’ve built.
1) Low ego. When I reflect on my career, the highlights have less to do with my individual achievements and more to do with the success of those around me who have thrived under my leadership and guidance. The best leaders are those who take responsibility for any failings, but celebrate any wins by recognizing each individual who contributed to that success. When it comes to being a great leader, humility can be as crucial as talent and skill.
2) High intellectual curiosity. The world likes to put us into a box, and that mentality is often mirrored within the workplace where individuals feel confined to stay within the lines of their respective roles. However, I have always approached each day with a childlike wonder and have actively pursued opportunities to expand my horizons professionally and learn more about different areas of the enterprise, regardless of whether or not they were directly related to my work. This allowed me to develop a comprehensive set of skills and a thorough understanding of everything from real estate and operations to supply chain and technology. My curiosity and hunger for learning ultimately prepared me to step into the CEO role.
3) A propensity for action. Simply put, get stuff done. Anyone can say they’re going to accomplish something, but if you take action to reinforce your words you’ll earn a track record for success where people know they can count on you.
What challenges and obstacles have you overcome in your career? I am not the first woman who has been undermined in the workplace and left out of important decisions I deserved to be a part of and, unfortunately, I won’t be the last. I’ve worked at companies where it was made apparent that no matter what I did, there was going to be a ceiling for my growth. I’ve also been in the position where I was pigeonholed into a certain role that limited the potential I knew I had. Whether or not my gender played a role in the obstacles I’ve faced is ultimately irrelevant; what matters is how I chose to respond. I’ve learned that people can and will have misconceptions about who I am and what I’m capable of doing, and that it’s up to me to challenge those misconceptions and show what I’m made of. When my career path transitioned from accounting to technology, many were skeptical if someone with a financial background could make such a shift, so I set about convincing them otherwise. If a job description lists 10 requirements, women tend not to apply if they don’t meet every single one; whereas men often will, even if they meet only 70%, leading to men continuing to get ahead. This phenomenon mirrors challenges I faced early in my career where my capabilities were doubted because on paper I didn’t meet every expectation of a particular role. It was up to me to overcome this roadblock by convincing people to drop their preconceived notions about who they thought I was and see me for what I had been able to deliver and my proven track record of success.
Describe your journey to your current position: My journey has been propelled by my desire to pursue what excited me most. I began my career working as an auditor in the media, technology, and restaurant spaces, but my career really accelerated when I joined Bloomin’ Brands in my early 30s. Throughout my time with the company, I served as chief accounting officer, chief information officer, and chief financial officer of the international division. During this time, I seized every opportunity to build something from the ground up, and developed a tremendously broad background by asking for opportunities to be involved in all aspects of the business. After spending 13 years with Bloomin’ Brands, I decided to leverage that experience and join Blaze Pizza, recognizing that the brand’s growth potential gave me an opportunity to make a tremendous impact. I joined the company 3 years ago as chief financial officer and was appointed to my current role of CEO in 2019.
What are your future career goals? I want to be an example of how to balance the human side of taking care of our teams with the success and high growth of a phenomenal lifestyle brand. I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to do something, you should strive to do it well. We’re positioned to take Blaze Pizza to new heights in 2021 and beyond, and I’m committed to leading the company through this period of growth with a focus on franchisee relationships and profitability. My goal as CEO is to continue pushing the brand forward without wavering from our core vision. There’s a fine balance between driving innovation with customization while keeping a focus on the simplicity that has defined and differentiated Blaze from other concepts, but I know we can achieve it.
In the midst of the growth we anticipate for our brand, we continue to maintain strong partnerships with our franchisees. Our operators are not a commodity that we use to serve the company, but true partners whose success and interests are a top priority. We’ve built an unparalleled support system that is the core of our operations, and as CEO my goal is to continue ensuring that our franchisees know how invested we are in them.
As a woman in business, I am constantly asking myself how can I leverage my position to help other women succeed. We’ve come a long way in terms of general equality in the workplace, but there is absolutely more work to be done, and I want a legacy of my career to be that I was part of the solution. I hope to use my platform to promote ways to help other women, as well as people of color, advance more quickly and ultimately do anything I can to make a difference.
Advice to young female executives in franchising: First and foremost, you must remember to advocate for yourself, because I can guarantee that it won’t just happen organically. The world is set up to tell women no, or to be happy with the success they’ve already attained. Becoming a remarkable leader requires you to navigate out of the structure predetermined by antiquated social standards. Don’t wait for a handbook on how to get what you want, it doesn’t exist. Don’t wait for the people around you to come up with the opportunity you’re looking for. It likely won’t happen. Open doors for yourself by leveraging your achievements to get what you’re owed and carve out a career that is shaped by your own consistent pursuit of your goals.
Additionally, the more time I listen to women’s personal stories, the more I understand the under-recognized spousal component of women in franchising and other businesses. The husband’s name may be on the paperwork, but in so many cases the wife is the one running the day-to-day business. Whether you’re a franchisee or an executive, if you know that your work is making a significant impact and driving a company’s success, be your own advocate and make sure you’re getting what you’re owed, whether financially or simply through recognition of your contributions. Get a title, get a paycheck, and own your career path.
It’s also important to know when it’s time to leave. If you feel stuck, don’t stay stuck. The uncertainty of what other opportunities may be out there for you can be paralyzing, understandably so. However, if you feel trapped in a role that is no longer serving you, use these moments of realization and channel them into action. Let your hunger for more fuel you to move on to a new, and likely better, chapter in your career.
About 2 years into my career, I suddenly became unafraid of getting fired, and I encourage every young woman looking to blaze her path to embrace the same mentality. In Corporate America, and life in general, things are going to happen to you that are unfair and simply out of your control. Approach everything with the perspective that layoffs could happen one day, but that what matters most is that you bring the best version of yourself to the table and focus on following a strong moral compass of what’s right. It also goes back to the importance of humility and ego, particularly when you’re young and in growth mode. Instead of focusing on how <you> can achieve your personal ambitions, focus your decisions on how best to serve the enterprise—most importantly, the people within the enterprise—and then communicate that to the leaders you work for.
Last, I’d offer that you shouldn’t say yes to everything, something too many women tend to do. Look at every task and project through a lens of what will actually help your career and filter out anything that isn’t aligned with your goal—especially if someone asks you to spearhead the office Christmas party, grab coffee, or be the notetaker for a meeting and you have the suspicion that it’s because you’re a woman. Don’t feel obligated to say yes. Small cues do lead to how you are perceived, so be an active participant and there are no limits for you!
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