KANSAS CITY – Back in the 1990s, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the man who managed the Meat Hall at Harrods — the world-famous, and largest department store in London—on-site several weeks before Christmas.
This elegant and massive store contained more than 1 million sq. ft. of selling space in more than 330 departments in a huge, multi-story building. I remember the extremely knowledgeable and friendly Meat Hall manager being polite, extremely hospitable, impeccably dressed and very proud of the meat and poultry products carried by his store. I could easily tell from the Meat Hall employees he introduced me to that they respected and admired him, as well as each other. They each had a spark in their eye as they discussed their jobs. And when it came to doing their jobs, they knew what they were doing. The Meat Hall ran like a well-oiled machine.
Given the variety of products Harrods Meat Hall offered, sourcing and ordering product had to be quite a chore. According to Gourmet Britain, gourmet protein products carried at Harrods include Aioli Albondigas (Spanish meat balls) and other meat balls; Suffolk Black Bacon; farmed beef and grass-fed beef Sourdough Brill Brioche Burgers; Guinea fowl; Haggis ham and Gammon ham; air dried ham; Parma Hampers; un-dyed lamb; Langoustines Organic and additive-free meat pies; fresh in-season mutton; pork sausages; Cumberland top-class sausages lamb scallops; smoked duck breast; smoked game; smoked goose; smoked lamb; pate; smoked venison; fresh Turbot turkeys; free-range veal for osso buco; and preserved char-grilled venison, just to mention a few.
At the time of my visit, the bustling, heavily bundled, red-cheeked customers were cheerfully lugging around an assortment of beautifully wrapped holiday packages as they strolled into the Meat Hall. The jolly staff behind the meat counters didn’t seem unnerved helping the throngs of hurried shoppers who sometimes resembled frenzied ants on the march. Up to 300,000 customers visit Harrods on the busiest of days.
I clearly remember the meat cases and other food displays were the most beautiful I had ever seen. The meat cases and counters were sparkling clean, well-stocked and the colors and presentations of the meat and promotional displays were superb. It would be hard to pass through the Meat Hall without making a purchase—despite of the hefty price tags some of the upper-scale local and imported offerings carried.
It was clear that those who worked at Harrods Meat Hall took great pride in what they did. Former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, who was already long at the helm as chairman at the time of my visit, more than likely demanded no less. But equally important, the Harrods Meat Hall manager was leading his employees by example. After we finished the interview and said our good-byes, I turned around once more to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, busy Meat Hall. I saw the Meat Hall manager smiling broadly while directing his employees around one of the meat cases—they appeared to hang onto every word, not in fear — but in great admiration. I stopped and watched in amazement, somewhat hidden among the bustling shoppers, and was extremely pleased to see the smiles on the workers’ faces and the spring in their step as they happily went about their jobs.
Although it sometimes seems as though many people today take little or no pride in what they do for a living, I’m happy to report I continue to see great pride in what people do on my business travels —ranging from company receptionists all the way up to the CEOs. Leadership needs to inspire company employees throughout the ranks. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and interviewing extraordinary industry leaders on many occasions, including Richard Knowlton, former chairman, president and CEO of Hormel Foods Corp., as well as Gordon McGovern, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Co. (parent company of the Swanson chicken business, among other leading food businesses) over the years.
What I remember most about Knowlton and McGovern is they were people persons — they enjoyed working with people and they appeared to know a lot about the people who worked for them. They were true leaders. They could sometimes be tough, but they were always fair and admired by all. They provided leadership by example.
If you’re an industry manager and dread working with employees, you are in the wrong job. Managers, regardless of if you oversee live-animal handling, slaughter operations, rendering, a trim line or cut floor, maintenance, packaging, distribution, marketing or any of the other operations that exist in a meat or poultry plant… should inspire and lead by example. In order to do that, you must like working with people, understand and respect what they do, encourage them to participate in strategy-making and problem-solving — but most important of all — help them to be the best they can be on the job each and every day. This, in turn, will allow them to strengthen their pride. Once they do that, they will not just merely show up to do their jobs…they will eagerly show up wanting to do an exceptional job.