Kimberly Grant Discusses the Intersection of Financial Acumen and Hospitality Expertise

Food prep, waitstaff and other hands-on hospitality sector experience can potentially help position workers for future leadership success — 8 in 10 restaurant owners, for instance, and 9 in 10 restaurant managers began their careers in the industry in an entry-level position, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Kimberly Grant, an independent director at Performance Food Group who has been at the large-cap food product distribution company since 2017, got a similar start in the industry when she was hired as a waitress at a restaurant owned by Ruby Tuesday.

Kimberly Grant

“I was 20 years old when I started and about a year and a half in, I was offered the opportunity to become a manager,” she says. “I had worked my way through all the positions as an hourly employee — bartender, line cook, kitchen manager, and I was a trainer; then I became a manager.”

Grant later was promoted to general manager and eventually became an investor/managing partner in one of the chain’s locations, which provided additional exposure to the financial aspects of the industry.

“Once I was in management, I was in a pretty robust career pathway where the sky was the limit,” she shares. “This was in the ’90s; you could actually invest your own money into your restaurant, [and] you became a partner in the business. You would receive your salary, but you’d also receive a percentage of the bottom line, which was pretty innovative at the time. It really taught me about how to run my own business and discipline for getting results.”

Obtaining Financial and Operational Abilities

Kimberly Grant was asked to take on a financial position in the organization when Ruby Tuesday’s CEO decided to create a blended finance team comprising professionals who had an MBA and individuals with first-hand operations management expertise.

“I knew how to run a business, and I knew how to make money,” Grant says. “The idea of me moving into finance was to bring an operational lens to the financial team and for me to hone my financial acumen as a business person. Within about a year of doing that, I became the controller, preparing all the income statements and materials for the executive team that were going to the board of directors. It was like an on the job MBA.”

Grant then transitioned back to an operational role within the company, overseeing 40 Ruby Tuesday restaurants — then ultimately all Ruby Tuesday locations.

“It took me nine years to go from waitress to COO of the company,” Grant recalls. “It was during a really massive growth phase; we were opening 50, 60 restaurants a year. It was intense — but it was [an] amazing experience learning how to run a public company.”

After 21 years with the corporation, Kimberly Grant stepped into the CEO role at ThinkFoodGroup. The move from a nationwide chain to an organization that encompassed nine upscale, high-volume restaurants located in gateway cities like Miami, Los Angeles and Las Vegas was an adjustment, Grant admits — which helped further expand her skill set.

“At Ruby’s, I had the legal department, the benefits department, but at TFG, I was the legal department,” she says. “It was such a small company [that] I was the benefits department. So I learned not just what needed to be done at those levels, but what to do — how to negotiate a strategic transaction, how to run a trademark program, things like that. It was a great time in my executive career for learning and growing.”

Kimberly Grant’s Formula for Success

In Grant’s various hospitality sector roles, and her work advising emerging companies such as the inKind app and indoor golf technology-enabled venue Five Iron Golf, she’s found being flexible and entrepreneurial — yet having some defined goals in place — can be beneficial for an organization.

“You have to have a plan that is adaptable,” she says. “[But] if you’re not hitting your key milestones, that would cause you to be reflective and say, ‘Should we change how we’re doing things? Should we tweak this?’ You can be flexible but have clear goals — and have moments where if you’re not seeming to be on track, you really are looking within yourself to see what needs to change.”

Grant adds that the executive and corporate governance knowledge she’s gained throughout her career has proved helpful when managing large-scale transitions.

“I use it every time I’m helping an organization with shaping their strategy,” she notes. “A lot of companies have [a] mission, vision, values — and everybody in the organization can spiel those off really easily. But that doesn’t always help with decision-making, or to identify priorities. A lot of companies have way too much going on, and they’re unfocused. As a result, they’re not as effective as they could be.”

When serving in a leadership role, Grant has encouraged the organizations she’s worked with to create operating tenets to help shape their financial and operational strategy.

“You have to have three or four governing criteria,” she says. “If you’re going to go into a new business [or] a new project, you’re going to take on a new client — it has to fit within a framework of what you’re best at and why you exist.”

Each time as she has led a new organization, for instance, she leverages her learnings about focus from her time as COO at Ruby Tuesday to institute guidelines that helped her and her team vet potential undertakings.

“In the past I have created operating model tenets that [meant] ideas or opportunities had to fulfill certain criteria before we could even consider [them],” she says. “It wasn’t just for me; it was also for my leadership team. If an idea came from a random call about sponsoring or endorsing a certain product, I’d say, ‘Well, have you pushed it through the tenets yet?’”

Potential endeavors needed to present meaningful revenue and profit prospects for the company and correlate with its strengths and capabilities, without detracting from its core business.

“Having these tenets and then memorializing them, [so] they don’t change, then every time a new project or a new idea comes in [you] say, ‘OK, is this what we’ve already decided as a group that matters most?’” she says. “And if it isn’t, then we try to not get distracted with it.”

Some businesses may attempt to justify new projects or strategies simply because they seem interesting, or the company’s leadership likes the idea. However, according to Kimberly Grant, that often isn’t an ideal approach for emerging growth company leaders to take.

“Sometimes you’ll fit [a] square peg into a round hole, but [the work] is not really what you do,” she says. “If you find yourself having to spin or justify why you’re doing something, it’s probably not something you should be doing.”