Interview With Don
Categories: Employer Interview
November 21, 2022
In this interview, Matt Parkin, Business Development Lead at FindWRK was joined by Don Seneviratna an experienced hospitality professional with demonstrated history of working in Canadian restaurant industry. Don has been awarded the Colonel's Champions Club and first ever Hall of Fame Winner for KFC Canada four times. He is skilled in people management, interpersonal communication and recruitment. Don is a strong operations professional with a certificate from DeMazenod College.
MP: So you’re an area coach, what kind of support do you provide to franchise users as an area coach?
DS: First of all, let me introduce the company. I work for FMI (Franchise Management Inc). We own 600 locations in Canada and the US. We are predominantly heavy on the KFC, Pizza Hut world. Our head office is in New Brunswick. I’m a market coach, newly promoted. I have about five or six area coaches reporting to me.
MP: And what do the area coaches do to support franchises.
DS: Everything from A-Z, coaching, recruitment, complete support.
MP: And when they’re providing the support, how much autonomy does each franchisee have over operational decisions? Is there a lot of info and resources passed down or is it a lot of, ‘here are some best practices, figure it out for yourself kind of thing?’
DS: These brands are very large and structured, so they have a lot of control over everything.
MP: Does the support stay consistent, so for instance, when they’re opening a franchise, do they get a lot more support at the beginning and then it kind of wanes down, or is it pretty consistent?
DS: It’s very consistent.
MP: So, you mentioned that the coaches recruit the managers for the stores then?
DS: Yes, and also we have an HR department and we do a lot of foreign recruitment, as well as the local recruitment. It’s a huge part of our organization.
MP: And for someone whose maybe considering a management position, either at your master franchise group or an individual location, what kind of common backgrounds or skillsets do they typically have?
DS: We consider people with a hospitality background. We do a lot of training and the training is very well structured.
MP: I had another question. So, you used to support Panera Bread and now you’re more focused on KFC, TacoBell kind of thing. Are there any key differences between working for any of the brands, or are they all pretty similar in terms of operational procedures, best practices, that kind of thing?
DS: Some branches have their own way of approaching things but at the end of the day, it’s food that we serve, basic rules remain the same.
MP: And so that’s the similarities between the brands, you mentioned you support Ontario and Quebec, do you see major differences between how your Ontario versus Quebec locations operate? Or even urban vs. rural locations?
DS: No the operational structure is the same but then the challenges vary.
MP: You mentioned that some of the urban vs. rural markets, there are some different challenges between the two, are you able to elaborate on that?
DS: The amount of people you can hire are different, the quality of people are different,
MP: So, in rural areas you have fewer people to choose from, do you find that people stay longer at those remote locations and there’s less turnover or is turnover typically similar to big cities?
DS: In rural areas, where the population is smaller, your choice when it comes to hiring, becomes that much more narrow.
MP: And are most of your locations in rural areas in Ontario?
DS: I have a few remote ones like Timmins, they are pretty remote.
MP: For people wanting to work in a franchise, are there any misconceptions that they have about working in the industry that you’ve seen over the years?
DS; No, not really. I mean the perfect example would be me, I joined this brand 30 years ago, but I realized the opportunities I had. So, I have come a long way through the branch. And people who really want to make a difference, they can, they have the opportunity.
MP: And do you have any advice for other people who are maybe behind you in their careers. If they’re just starting out as cooks in some of these restaurants, what advice you have for them?
DS: Absolutely, work hard and work for your goal and it’s the dedication that counts. That’s my message to everyone - don’t expect the sun and the moon when your first join, you know the opportunity is there but you’ve got to work for it, it’s highly competitive, to get up to where you want to get up to but the possibility is absolutely there.
MP: That’s good that there’s possibilities there for growth advancement. We’ve been speaking with job seekers and they’ve been saying that those growth opportunities are more enticing to them than compensation or other factors when they’re thinking about some of these jobs.
DS: Absolutely. I mean I would be one of the best examples to put forward because in 1992, I joined as a cook for KFC in Brampton ON and since then, I have worked for different brands, but my main brand is KFC. So it is possible and I’m a living example of what you can do with this brand. And I have a lot of friends who had the same exposure or have done the same thing, so it is possible. It’s a big possibility. There’s no question about it, but it depends on what you want to do, how fast you want to do it, it depends on you, basically.
MP: That’s a great message for people that are looking for jobs or that are thinking about working in the industry. I guess switching over to the employer side of things, I was at the Ontario Hospitality Conference yesterday and there was a lot of talk about what employers are doing to make staff feel psychologically safe and comfortable in the workplace. Is there anything that your team is doing to help with that with your employees, to make them feel safe coming into work and if someone has an idea of how to do something cheaper, faster, better, to be able to share that.
DS: You know, um the most important thing is…we’ve got to offer flexibility to people. Today’s world is very different, people have a lot more ways to make money than going and getting stranded in a job. If you go back 25 or 30 years, there were set ways for people to make money. So you joined, just like I joined. You joined as a cook, moved up to the management, that was your world. But today, the world is so different. You can be home, doing what you do and there are so many ways that you can make a buck out of it. This is how competitive the labour market now is, so the best thing is to offer flexibility. If you offer people the flexibility they look for, they can do whatever they need to do and they will have the opportunity on the side to do what they want, maybe drive a cab, or Uber, or make food deliveries and make some money and combine that income, so flexibility is #1. Next, you need to recognize people for who they are, for what they are and their capabilities, you know today’s world has changed, so it’s not like before. There’s emphasis on diversity, language skills and things like that, so these things are important.. Everything matters at this time. Today people are very choosy. They have different options and you’ve got to recognize and respect them for who they are.
MP: That’s well said, I like the focus on flexibility there, especially with the shift time. Do your locations typically schedule just based on seniority or is it pretty equitable in terms of the way that shifts are assigned?
DS: No no no no, seniority comes into play if you are a superstar. Absolutely, but just because your seniority is higher, that’s one thing that we don’t do. You can be senior but if you don’t do your job right, there will be another person to take care of it.
MP: And I guess last question is do you do anything from benefits or perks or anything to kind of reward or recognize employees.
DS: We do. We have a separate program where we offer a lot of perks. And also depending on the seniority, we have special offerings, our wages are different, and depending on their seniority, we offer them free meals when they come to work and things like that. So, there are a lot of ways that we take care of our people.
MP: outside of the free meals are there any kind of creative perks that you do for your employees?
DS: Yes, we have a website that they can go to. There are discounts offered on this website from brands and things like that, so yes, absolutely.
MP: Is it one of those general perk websites where there’s everything from travel to clothes to food to…
DS: That’s exactly what it is. And the good thing is that the brands themselves are global brands. And they’re very solidly placed in the world, so we have that global edge and also we have discount programs for our own employees.