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Cup o' Joe

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 10:36 a.m. February 14, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Strategies
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There was a time when Joe Genovese thought being in sales was beneath him.

That was back when he was a brand manager for companies from Nabisco to EcoLab, the company behind products such as Jet-Dry and Rain-X. He lived and worked in his native New York City. His career prospects were bright.

Then one day after a game of racquetball, a friend who worked in sales talked to Genovese about a career change. The friend believed Genovese had the right stuff for sales, especially the resiliency and resplendent personality.

Genovese balked. He considered sales a position for people who couldn't cut it in the real business world. But he thought about it and called his friend back to hear more. “I challenged myself to actually pursue it,” he says.

The result was a shift into the foodservice industry that eventually led to an executive sales position at Starbucks. That job delivered Genovese his latest gig: Running nationwide franchise development for University Park-based First Watch, a fast-growing chain of breakfast-brunch-lunch restaurants. Genovese took that position in early December.

Genovese worked with some industry titans in his career, including Starbucks founder Howard Schultz. But his biggest takeaway goes back to his early days in sales. That's when he discovered the difference between really listening to a client's needs and heading into a meeting with a set agenda on what he wanted to sell.

“You have to have a significant dose of humility to sell, and that's the humility to know you don't know everything,” says Genovese. “You have to take the time to listen.”

Genovese lives in Phoenix and will commute nationwide for First Watch. He recently sat down with the Business Observer to talk about his career, lessons learned and growth prospects for the franchise department at First Watch.

Immigrant success: Genovese grew up in an apartment in a blue-collar neighborhood of New York City. His grandparents on both sides are immigrants from southern Italy. Genovese's father owned a deli, and his uncles ran small businesses. His mother was a secretary. “I come from a long line of entrepreneurial merchants,” says Genovese.

Early start: Genovese's parents pushed him in school so he could have more opportunities. He earned an M.B.A. from Fordham University while he worked by day and took classes at night. Says Genovese: “I was groomed to study business.”

Speak proudly: Genovese is active in several community organizations, but one he's especially passionate about is Toastmasters, a public speaking improvement group. He attends a class at least once a week, both to mentor others and learn new techniques. “All people need a forum in which to sharpen their communications and leadership skills,” Genovese says, “whether they are an accomplished executive, a school teacher, a real estate agent or a contractor.”

Image conscious: Genovese was an executive vice president and chief development officer at AFC Enterprises, the parent company of Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits. He helped open stores in multiple new markets in that role. That experience, and later at Starbucks, is where Genovese learned how connected a company's brand to its sales. “It's all about understanding and appreciating the power of the brand,” says Genovese.

Best job: Genovese worked for Seattle's Best in franchising for five years after AFC Enterprises. He stayed with the company for another decade after Starbucks bought Seattle's Best, a transformative career move. Working for Schultz, he says, taught him that nothing in business is entitled. Says Genovese: “We need to earn our customer's trust every day.”

Once more: Genovese retired from Starbucks last year, but he didn't want to retire from business. He knew about First Watch from a friend, Frank Belatti, who is on the board of the daytime cafe company. Belatti introduced Genovese to First Watch President and CEO Ken Pendery, and the pair hit it off. Says Genovese: “I wanted to do one more cool and interesting thing.”

No sacrifice: Genovese's mission is to grow the First Watch franchise count, but to do it “without sacrificing what we do and how we do it,” he says. Genovese is most protective of First Watch's culture. He especially wants to maintain the differences between First Watch and some competitors. For example, First Watch doesn't have heating lamps in the kitchen, so when a plate is ready, it's served.

All over: Genovese and his team seek franchisees in several markets, from the Carolina coasts up to Philadelphia and then west and south, from Denver to Dallas. One thing he doesn't want to do is grow too fast. That idea, to grow faster than the company can support, is Genovese's No. 1 up-at-night worry.
“Sometimes growth can be so contagious it becomes infectious and you lose perspective,” says Genovese. “My biggest fear is that we allow growth to become too over-consuming. We will be watchful of that.”

Leaders eat last
First Watch franchise development executive Joe Genovese says one of his favorite leadership concepts, which holds true for sales, is the idea that why someone does something is what really matters.

“Anybody can tell you what they do and how they do it,” says Genovese, “but few can tell you why.”

The concept has gained prominence lately from author and business consultant Simon Sinek. His books include “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” and “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't.”

Genovese says business leaders like Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs constantly sought out the why, which is why their companies, Starbucks and Apple, became iconic. Genovese says he now looks to pinpoint the why when he meets with prospective franchisees for First Watch. That insight, he says, is the best indicator of potential success.

“This isn't a business for the faint of heart,” Genovese says. “It's an attractive investment, but it's also a significant investment.”


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