Ronald M. Shaich (Panera Bread) in “The Corner Office”

Ronald M. Shaich

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Ronald M. Shaich, founder, chairman and co-C.E.O. of Panera Bread. He says companies often err by letting their “delivery muscle” — how they get their work done — become stronger than the “discovery muscle” that brings innovation.

Photo Credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Bryant:How has your leadership style evolved?Shaich: When I started out, I think I was like many people in that I was focused on the profit as the end. I spent a lot of time around the numbers, and that phase probably lasted for five or 10 years. From there, I began to realize that the numbers that came out the back end were a byproduct. So I entered a phase where the driving force of how I spent my time was on key initiatives. I would sit down at the beginning of each year — and I did this for my life, too — and figure out what I’m going to get done in the next year.

In the last 10 years, I have found myself spending more time on the people, because oftentimes people — how they are organized and work together — are what ultimately drive your ability to meet those key initiatives.

Bryant: What are some things you’ve done to maintain your culture as you’ve grown?

Shaich:  We wrote our “official” cultural values document long after the culture had already taken hold. And we wrote them not to put them up on the wall in the back office, but to codify the ways we wanted to relate with each other.

Bryant: What are some examples?

Shaich:  One of them is no jerks. It started as something more precise, but it was sanitized by our human resources people along the way. I wanted to create the kind of organization that I would want my kids to work for. It’s a standard I use, and that means no jerks.

Another precept we spend a lot of time talking about is that we do the tough stuff with optimism and mastery. In our kind of industry, it’s always easy to follow the conventional wisdom. But I like things that are difficult because when they are difficult, we can solve them. We can simplify them and come up with the right answer, creating a competitive advantage. If something is simple in my industry, then anybody can do it. So I like things that are more difficult. That’s where we play.

*     *     *Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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