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Illinois Ag News Headlines
What I Know Now: Restaurant Exec, Mentor, Red Robin COO
By: Carin Stutz, Western Illinois Class of 1978 - 08/08/2018

Time flies . . .

I never thought about that when I was at WIU or when I thought a tough class would never end. Now, I'm astonished when I look at the calendar and often say, 'How can it be June already? The year just started.' Guess that means I truly am having fun! Make every day count!

Take the high road...

In my 20s, I learned an early lesson with a group of colleagues gossiping about our boss. It was a game of one-upmanship; who could top the last story. A new colleague joined the group, listened for a few minutes and simply said, 'I wonder how we would handle it if we were in their shoes? It must be challenging to have that responsibility and please everyone.' I felt ashamed and small. Now, with every conversation, I think about how can I add value, take the high road and bring the conversation to a better place.

Math matters . . .

After spending an entire career in the hospitality business (or any business), I have learned operating skills and being able to execute the plan are critical to being successful. However, if you want a seat in the C-suite, you must learn financial skills. You need to know how your company makes money, invests capital and delivers a return on those investments, to name a few. I often see women shy away from this, but once they commit, they learn easily. Jump in! This opened doors for me.

Speaking of math and money, debt is your enemy . . .

As I am writing this, I am sporting a pair of $9 Costco jeans. Perhaps because I grew up with loving parents but not much money, I continue to be unapologetically frugal today. I spend money on experiences, concerts and grandbabies (okay...and wine), have saved every bonus check I have received and never paid interest on a credit card. I have no regrets not buying things that wouldn't matter in six months that I'd still be paying off. Invest in you and your bank account first. You don't have to impress anyone with material things.

Be an advocate for yourself . . .

I was passed over for a job seven times. The seventh time, as I arrived at the office, my boss met me at the door and said, 'I have some good news.' Of course, I was thinking, this is it! I'm going to get that promotion. I was leading the company in every possible metric. Instead he said, 'there is someone here I want you to meet. I'm asking you to train him and when he's done, he will be your new boss.' Of course, I should have said something kind and welcoming, but the frustration got to me and I said, 'Are you kidding me; when is it going to be my turn?' He said to me: 'Are you kidding me? There is not a person here who thinks you want to be promoted.' Wow, that was a turning point for me. Keeping your head down, getting great results and thinking surely someone will notice is not how the game is played. You MUST be an advocate for yourself and speak up about your career goals.

You get more from a mentoring relationship than you give . . .

Yes, we get to share wisdom and life experiences, but I leave each session more confident in the next generation with good insights on keeping our business relevant for years to come. And I feel about 10 years younger and much more hip than I really am.

Don't take life and those you love for granted . . .

My mother reminds me daily of the regret she has for taking my dad for granted before we lost him to cancer. I am not good at this either. Work can consume me. My husband, Rodger '78, is a role model at this. He gives you his complete attention in every conversation. He doesn't pick up his phone and is 100 percent present. Be like Rodger.

You've got to have friends . . .

My first year at WIU was on Bennett 4, followed by Thompson 6 and then the Tri-Sigma sorority. Little did I know then that those nine women, nicknamed the Bennett Buddies, would still be dear friends today. We live across the USA, but find time to meet every summer. This group of friends is my lifeline. We celebrate successes, children and grandchildren, and we can talk politics, religion or current events with many points of view, but we value and respect our different opinions. We can be vulnerable, and we lift each other up. The crazy number of text messages make me laugh every day. I mention this because I have watched my mother-in-law thrive after losing my father-in-law way too young. This is due to her amazing network of friends. Don't be too busy to cement important friendships. Cheers to lifetime friends.

Be kind . . . especially to those who serve . . .

After 40 years in the restaurant business, I've seen it all. Working in hospitality, I am grateful for our service providers, teachers, first responders, military and health care workers who often see us when we are not at our best. It's too easy today to be negative and find fault, when the reality is the people who serve you are hardworking and incredibly generous people, who truly care. Start and end with kindness. We have total control.

Practice optimism . . .

I am an optimist. From an early age, if we said anything negative about someone or something, my mother insisted we immediately follow that with two positive things. That is rather hard for a child, but it stuck with me. A side benefit was I learned to see the world from various points of view. I learned that I may not agree with you, but I can still value and respect you. Optimism allows me to wake up every day with hope, confidence and joy. Unfortunately, it hasn't made me want to exercise.

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