Intrapreneurship: The Start of Great Careers with Restaurant Associates
If you’ve eaten at The Egg down in the Student Commons, you’ve probably seen Michael Smith ’92 (tall guy, white chef’s jacket), the executive chef for Restaurant Associates (RA) at the CIA. At the helm of The Egg’s kitchen, since it opened, Chef Mike has been instrumental in identifying and placing CIA graduates into the MIT (Manager-in-Training) program at RA, a subsidiary of Compass Group that provides food services to corporations, educational institutions, and cultural organizations. The majority of these newly graduated students took the Intrapreneurship bachelor’s degree concentration, where they were responsible for opening and operating an original pop-up concept in The Egg’s Innovation Kitchen.
Here, Chef Mike tells us why the RA-CIA partnership is so successful.
How does the Restaurant Associates MIT program work?
In other divisions of Compass Group, you are assigned a location, go through training, and work in your unit with the goal of being offered a position. In RA, we do it a little differently. We want to handpick the person and get you into the unit that we know has a need and the leadership and infrastructure to help you succeed; we want to make sure the personalities mesh. We’re hiring you—you’re not competing for your job—so the program is more like an extended onboarding process. On our end, we feel we are attracting the upper echelon of CIA graduates. What has most impressed me about RA’s MIT program is that it really focuses on financials, marketing…big picture stuff that pushes graduates and prepares them for the future.
What does RA find appealing about CIA Intrapreneurship alumni?
We love Intrapreneurship grads because they’ve had failures as well as successes. Each day in the Innovation Kitchen, the students analyze what worked and what didn’t work in service and then come into work the next day ready to make changes. In the business world, it’s all about how well you can adjust and react, and this program provides that to these students. They are also well-rounded and have a more real-world view of the possibilities available to them. Young chefs often want to focus just on the food, and that’s phenomenal, but what you quickly learn is that you’re here for your customers. When you can flip that switch, you become much more valuable to your employers.
The other thing that’s really valuable about our hiring CIA graduates is that they represent RA’s customers for the next 20 years. Getting them into our pipeline and listening to what they like and what they want more of puts us ahead of the curve. The Innovation Kitchen has evolved so much from, “What’s good food that we can sell?” to seriously working in sustainability, local when possible…all of the topics that are going to continue to be important to our consumers. It’s not a stretch for these students to say, “We need a vegan option”—it’s part of their DNA. As we fill our ranks with future leaders, the fact that all of these great things are ingrained in them is a bonus for us.
Why is being able to innovate from within a food business so important?
As a company that feeds as many people a day as we do—and that represents so many different sectors—we don’t just rely on our corporate chefs to provide innovation and ideas. We value mid-level managers who know their business and have a passion for service or food and are willing to try new things. I always tell chefs who enter corporate foodservice that just because you’re not working in a three-Michelin-star restaurant, it doesn’t mean your creativity is stifled. You can affect more people with a good idea in Compass Group than you can in any restaurant in the world. If your culinary program or hospitality-based idea is a success in your unit, it will be a success in every unit. You have the power to impact millions of diners.
What results have you seen so far from the MIT program?
Since we initiated this partnership, RA has hired about 18 to 20 recent CIA grads, and greater than 50% of them took the Intrapreneurship concentration. Compass Group and RA have hired Intrapreneurship graduates in front- and back-of-the-house positions at properties like The World Bank, Hearst Communications, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Viacom, Credit Suisse, Harvard Business School, and the Guggenheim.
How does going through the MIT program give students a leg up?
In the same way that your learning curve is accelerated through the MIT program, so is your earning power. After you complete the training program, you are prepared to enter the company as a junior-level manager rather than an hourly associate, earning approximately 30% more, depending on your sector and geographic location. And that’s a great financial foundation to build from.