Lorna Donatone never expected she’d one day be recognized as one of the foodservice industry’s most successful executives. But since cruising into the business in 1999, she’s taken her place in its upper echelon of leaders.
She’s reached the top rung of the business ladder, but says anyone who works hard, demonstrates persistence and shows dedication can achieve similar success. That’s one reason why she loves the industry.
“The best thing about this industry is it’s one of opportunity. People can start out in the dish room or as a server or manager, and they can work their way up. There aren’t a lot of industries where that can still happen.”
Donatone is committed to spreading the word about industry opportunities, particularly to young people considering industry careers. As chairwoman of the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation and a board member for the Culinary Institute of America, she says it’s her mission to mentor and advise the next generation of business leaders.
“I interact with students a lot; after all, my business is education. It’s part of my job to help expose them to this industry and the different companies they can work for. It’s important they see there are many different paths to take. Sometimes people get one idea about our industry and that’s all they know. I try to make them see it’s more than what they think.”
As a mentor, Donatone tells prospective employees to consider all options before deciding the best fit.
“When you’re trying to grow your career, make sure you widen your lens to include different types of jobs and pieces of this industry,” she says.
She also is passionate about ensuring more women advance to leadership positions.
“Companies must do their part to get the best and brightest to want to work for them,” says Donatone, a board member for the Women’s Foodservice Forum. “Focusing on diversity is critical.”
Is the industry doing a good job where gender diversity is concerned? It’s getting there, she says.
“We’re doing great at trying to effect change, but we’ve got to continue elevating women to reach a 50-50 balance in leadership. We have to get there; we just do.”