The company's CEO on how Dickey's legacy in Texas barbecue has evolved, and what's coming next.
It’s kind of an irony that I have ended up “in the kitchen,” because from a culinary standpoint, I have no business being there. I often promise new owner-operators that I will have nothing to do with our food other than taste-testing.
What I love about our business and the segment is that it offers so many doorways into a really lucrative career. Roland [Dickey Jr.] and I were married when I was working in marketing and technology. When we hit the 2008 recession, he said we could ride out the storm or we could take this opportunity to grow in a really challenging situation. I told him we’re made for the latter, and he said, “You have expertise that we can’t afford in other traditional avenues, but if you joined the company in a consulting role, we can see how that works out and take it from there.”
I joined to formalize marketing and community marketing, technology, and communications. We uncovered all these opportunities—if we could only spend less time mining our data and instead make it actionable. When Roland was promoted to our holding company, it was a natural fit to adjust my role to CEO since I’d had the opportunity to work with so many different departments.
One of the things I’ve learned from my father-in-law and Roland: You’re doing the best in business when you’re not the smartest person in the room. I’m fortunate enough to say that our team is full of many smarter, more capable, and more experienced people. I do think that spending eight years in so many different roles in the company is the only way that I am even mildly qualified to sit in the chair I’m in today.
It’s really been wonderful taking our big data initiative, Smoke Stack, to the next level. It started in the back of the house, and now we’ve rolled out marketing initiatives and customer sentiment analysis. We’re also launching a consumer app in the iOS store. The final piece is Alexa. When you’re in a kitchen, you have to un-glove to switch from pit master to general manager. But if your data can talk to you while you’re in the middle of the shift, it reduces that final barrier.
What is the best piece of advice you think quick-service executives should hear?
Food and folks are equally valuable. You should never be too far away from either. You should be committed to your culinary as much as you’re committed to your people.
What’s your favorite menu item at Dickey’s?
Pulled Pork Sandwich with cheddar, no sauce—which might be slightly controversial, but I’m a no-sauce girl.
What’s your favorite type of food, excluding barbecue?
A good steak or great Thai food.
Who has inspired you as a leader?
Jerry Murray of Murray Branding in Fort Worth. He took a chance and hired me as an intern. Many years later I asked him to head our CMO search and work with Dickey’s and audit it from the outside. That has been a great full circle.
What are some of your interests outside of the business?
A great book or horseback riding.
Read the full story here: https://www.qsrmagazine.com/start-finish-what-inspires-execs/what-inspires-dickey-s-ceo-laura-rea-dickey