Life is about making connections
Jeremy Lieberman, director of operations for Asia-Pacific at Bubba Gump Shrimp, which owns a chain of seafood restaurants inspired by the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, embodies some of the admirable character traits of the film's leading man. Like the fictional character of Gump, Lieberman, 46, is philosophical, inspirational and determined. To him, running a restaurant is a cross-cultural experience. Having worked from the front of house to the back of house and now in management, Lieberman believes a restaurant must offer good, warm food and service in a consistent manner to make diners happy – and make money. Lieberman opened China's first Bubba Gump Restaurant at The Peak Tower in late 2006. There are 32 Bubba Gump restaurants around the world. He shares with Luisa Tam his golden rules in life and management.
How did you start in this business?
My first job in the restaurant industry was making orange juice after school when I was 13. Each day, I would go to a pancake house, where freshly-squeezed orange juice was one of its signature items and my job involved cutting cases and cases of oranges and squeezing them into juice. Besides getting my hands all cold and numb, I found the excitement of managing a restaurant really affected me.
As I began to work towards my career goal, I found that my love for the business allowed me to continue to nurture my interest in communications so I just followed that career path. Before joining the company in 2004, I opened and operated as chef-owner in a modern casual American restaurant in my hometown of Chicago in the late 1990s.
What does your daily work involve?
Every day is different. I never face the same challenges every day and that's how I maintain the passion in this business. I focus a lot of my energy on people and products and I am not particularly driven by back-office work or paperwork.
I really like to home in on developing our people. My day-to-day could be doing anything from tasting the food with the chef, to preparing festive menus or working with the kitchen staff on consistency to maintain food quality.
There are 70,000 restaurants in Hong Kong. We have a beautiful location on The Peak, but in order to make an impact, we have to consistently deliver a special service and products. The Hong Kong market is very competitive so we have to serve more than just food on the plate; we have to create a dining experience that is as good as the food.
What are the challenges?
Each individual I work with presents me with special challenges. The best solution is to never give up. Employ different approaches in dealing with different people because some may learn better from hearing and some by hands-on experience. I try to utilise different modalities of learning to find the right approach and balance. If you invest in people and create a relationship and recognise their individualities, they will work with you.
I enjoy my work and my passion comes from the fact that I have worked with so many different cultures throughout my career. Having been exposed to so many different cultures and so many different ways of conducting business, I have been able to cobble together different best practices that work for me.
What do you feel is the most exciting part of your job?
To me developing people is the most exciting and rewarding and I love to watch them grow in their job. My satisfaction comes from knowing that I have contributed to their growth by not just teaching them but supporting and believing in them and allowing them to blossom.
The payback for me is to know that I have given back to my industry by nurturing a wealth of individuals to continue to provide the kind of hospitality that I strive to represent in my career.
How does one become an effective leader and build a strong team?
My philosophy is to treat others as I want to be treated. We have a special make-up of human resources here, as our employees are from all over the world. By treating our staff with dignity and respect, regardless of where they come from, we can really develop a kind of family spirit in the company.
Making a connection is very important. To me, a bad day is when I have failed to make the connection that I want to make, with individuals or with the team.
A good leader should be able to share his vision. Like the popular saying goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. When I find myself failing to teach someone to fish that means I have failed as a leader.
I've done my job when I have achieved strong business results and happy customers.
Which books have most influenced or inspired you?
I enjoy reading self-help techniques and growth-oriented books such as Eat That Frog. My favourite is Who Moved My Cheese? which has helped me to recognise what are the most effective ways to make changes. I also like action and adventure travel books because they are about men and the natural environment and how we relate and interact with the world we live in.
What's your advice for young people?
Find something that interests you and throw yourself at it. Young people should seek out multiple interests and opportunities. Hong Kong can't get enough employees to fill all those job opportunities, so whatever you are interested in, go for it and learn more about it to create your own opportunities.
- Lieberman likes reading to relax
- He also dedicates himself to fitness
- Regular exercise helps him maintain a healthy outlook on life