Chick-fil-A’s Annual Meeting — More Than Company Growth on Menu
In addition to sessions on how to run their franchises, participants at Chick-fil-A’s NEXT conference hear from speakers who focus on their personal development.
When approximately 6,500 attendees come together for the 2019 edition of Chick-fil-A’s annual NEXT conference, they can expect to be served some content that isn’t part of traditional program fare. The three-day event (whose dates and location were confidential at the time of print due to company policy) will go beyond product announcements and outlines of new business initiatives for the quick-service brand.
Sure, the program aims to educate thousands of owner-operators of the restaurant’s locations and Chick-fil-A’s headquarter employees about the vision for the company. But Mike Fleming, a partner at Prophet, the brand and experience consulting company that designed the event, told Convene that one of the most unique characteristics of the company’s strategy is that it aims to help clients see beyond the traditional boundaries of their business.
“We’ve had guests from other companies come in and see how the company approaches the event,” Fleming said. “One of the most common observations is that there is an intention to look beyond what’s happening in the business. There is a great deal of content about leadership and personal growth.”
Six years ago, all that content looked very different. The event — which was called the Operator Seminar — had been running for nearly half a century. “The company felt that the program had kind of lost its way,” Fleming said. “It had become all about the brand and less about what the company could do to equip these operators to be the best leaders they could be.”
Fleming and Prophet began working with Chick-fil-A to develop the NEXT branding, manage content strategy for the event, and oversee the run-of-show [see video below]. “The program,” Fleming said, “needed to be heavy on inspiration.”
One of the reasons for the big dose of motivational energy is that the audience includes the operators’ spouses, too. “All the business content might not be relevant to spouses, but we hope they find [some] content relevant and inspiring as well,” Fleming said. “There is a big focus on personal development, so speakers might address some of the challenges of raising kids or offer tips for better time management.”
The approach also has caught the attention of vendors at the event. Justin Harris, COO at the leadership development company Wildsparq, noted the difference in a LinkedIn post.
“Chick-fil-A chose not only to invite operators and all corporate employees, but their spouses as well,” Harris wrote in “Five Takeaways from Chick-fil-A’s Annual Conference.” “Healthy cultures understand that employees’ lives outside of work impact their performance at work. As a result, Chick-fil-A spent double what they normally would to make sure their operators and employees felt seen, appreciated, and cared for as human beings.”
Meat of the Matter
Of course, the event is more than a feel-good gathering. NEXT must include plenty of tangible takeaways for the operators who run more than 2,200 franchise locations around the country. The conference also helps support Chick-fil-A in its goal toward becoming the third-largest quick-service chain in the U.S. by 2020.
With only one opportunity each year to get the entire network of operators together to understand the company’s vision, NEXT offers three educational formats. The Common Ground area is similar to a main stage or general-session environment, and Fleming said that it’s where the big talks from Chick-fil-A’s C-level executives and outside speakers occur. However, the program aims to avoid what Fleming calls the “sitting and getting” approach to education.
“When we designed the environment, we were striving to avoid having people sit for six hours in a big auditorium,” Fleming said. “We want them to have conversations about the future of the company.”
Those conversations begin in Labs, which are designed like breakout sessions and run an average of 45 minutes long, and they continue in Garages — the most non-corporate element at the corporate event. “We thought about the analogy where the garage is the room in your house where things aren’t perfect,” Fleming said. “It’s okay to get messy.”
There are two Garage sections — the Now Garage and the Future Garage. The environment is comparable to an exhibit area, with the distinction being that some offerings in the Future Garage are speculative and may never actually be produced. “The Now Garage includes anything that might arrive in the next 12 months, such as new uniforms or new menu items,” Fleming said. “But the Future Garage is where attendees know that there are ideas that may never come to fruition. The company wants feedback, and they want attendees to be part of the work in the garage.”
Attendee feedback has made it clear that the mix of personal inspiration and professional education at the event is a winning formula. Eighty percent of last year’s participants indicated that they will make a change in their businesses or their lives because of NEXT.
The 2019 edition of the event will focus on engagement, both internally and externally, a nod to the chain’s aim to get operators to connect with team members and guests on more than a transactional level. “It’s never just about the new nuggets coming to the menu,” Fleming said. “The event is very much balanced with Chick-fil-A’s aim to help the whole person.”
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.
Spreading Its Wings
As Chick-fil-A expands, the chain has added many operators outside of the Southeast, where it was founded. In 2019, the first non-U.S. location will open its doors in Toronto. As the Chick-fil-A network continues to grow, the company’s NEXT conference will need to adapt to meet a different set of needs, said Prophet’s Mike Fleming.
“The needs are more diverse now than they were just a few years ago. They have longer-tenured operators, and they have operators from areas where the brand is less established. They don’t all need the same lessons, so the content strategy will need to be more flexible.”
How Prophet Reimagined the Chick-fil-A Event
December 7, 2018
Sherrif Karamat, President and Chief Executive Officer
Sherrif Karamat, CAE, is President and Chief Executive Officer of PCMA. Karamat also serves as President of the PCMA Foundation and Publisher of Convene magazine.
As CEO, Karamat leads the vision, mission and promise for PCMA’s global family of brands. Karamat serves the greater business events industry as a prominent business architect, enabling our community to become a catalyst for economic and social progress, organizational success, and personal and professional development.
In his previous role as Chief Operating Officer, Karamat led the development and implementation of PCMA’s new vision: driving global economic and social transformation through business events. In addition to his responsibilities at executive level, Karamat also directed streamlining of PCMA’s content creation and delivery channels into one organization. He oversaw partnership, business services, membership, business development and technology teams.
As part of PCMA’s growth strategy, Karamat has led a major data intelligence program and played a key role in the 2017 acquisition of Incentive Conference & Event Society Asia Pacific (ICESAP).
A leader in the business events industry, Karamat previously served as Vice President of Business Sales and Services for Toronto Convention & Visitors (Tourism Toronto). He has served on various boards and is currently a director on the Destination International Board of Trustees.
Karamat is a life-long learner. In addition to completing his bachelor’s degree and Masters of Business Administration from York University in Toronto, Canada, he has completed postgraduate certificate programs at Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. At Harvard Business and Law School, he completed a program on strategic negotiations for senior executives and a program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one on data intelligence and big data.
Robert Haas, Chief Administrative Officer
Robert Haas is responsible for PCMA’s IT, human resources, data and finance departments as its first Chief Administrative Officer. He utilizes data, content and personalized experiences to help PCMA better understand its members’ needs and develop an audience-focused strategy.
Haas has more than 15 years of database marketing, product development and consulting experience from working in business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries. He understands how innovation, research and technology intersect and evaluates what is leading edge versus cutting edge.
Haas will leverage data to determine best practices in business events and how the industry can drive global economic and social transformation.
He previously served as PCMA’s Chief Innovation Officer. He joined PCMA as Vice President of Business Development and Data Intelligence. His previous roles include Senior Vice President of Strategic Product Development and Marketing at Scranton Gillette Communications Inc. and in direct response marketing for Tribune Direct.
He has a bachelor’s degree in international business from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin.
Mona Cotton, Chief Business Officer
As Chief Business Officer, Mona Cotton leads the Business Development, Client and Member Services, and Business Services teams. She has more than 20 years of business leadership experience in the areas of partnership, sponsorship, business development, media publishing and business services.
Cotton, a PCMA leader for more than 15 years, takes a strategic approach to transforming PCMA’s client relationships and business opportunities. Her role at PCMA is to facilitate connections between business-to-business organizations and business-to-consumer operations, identifying opportunities to fuel economic and social progress and success for PCMA and its members, customers and clients.
While she has watched as business events shifted from logistics to engagement, Cotton said the value of relationships remains steadfast in the industry.
Prior to PCMA, Cotton led and supported various sales efforts at the National Association of REALTORS, Airborne Express (now DHL) and Fox Associates, a Chicago-based magazine representative firm. She received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and advertising from Indiana University.
Michelle Crowley oversees regional brand development, content outreach and innovation as PCMA’s first Chief Growth & Innovation Officer. She is responsible for regional and revenue development in the Americas, Asia Pacific (APAC) and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) regions. In addition, Crowley is responsible for education and product development.
She leads PCMA’s global growth strategy by evaluating and identifying how the organization can deliver value to its members through new and existing business models, education programs and new products.
Crowley began her career at PCMA and continues to work with global travel brands, build strategic relationships and partnerships with key markets, and design year-round engagement campaigns. She has held various positions at PCMA including Vice President for Global Growth and Business Transformation.
Crowley is 2019 MBA graduate of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Meredith Rollins, Chief Community Officer
As PCMA’s first Chief Community Officer, Meredith Rollins leads the community engagement team.
The team delivers programs and services that strengthen the connections between PCMA members, facilitate knowledge sharing and advance the network of professionals in the global business events industry. Her key areas of responsibility include community and chapter engagement, research, social impact and volunteerism. She remains Executive Director of the PCMA Foundation.
Rollins joined PCMA in 2007 and held roles in project management, global development and account management with the PCMA partnership program. She was Director of Strategic Development for the Association for Corporate Growth, a global community for middle-market M&A business leaders from 2012 to 2015. Rollins became Executive Director of the PCMA Foundation in 2015.
Rollins received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Gina Meier, Director, Human Resources
Gina Meier is Director of Human Resources for PCMA, a position she has held since 2006. She is responsible for helping PCMA execute its vision of driving global economic and social transformation through its human capital.
Her responsibilities including professional development, culture, talent development, employee integration and employee engagement.
Meier began her human resources career in 1999 as human resources manager for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide LLC, now a subsidiary of Marriott International Inc. She previously worked as director and manager in Starwood’s housekeeping division.
Meier received a bachelor’s degree in hotel/motel administration and management from Eastern Illinois University.
Bruce MacMillan, Chief Marketing Officer
Bruce MacMillan is responsible for PCMA’s global brand development and marketing strategies as PCMA’s Chief Marketing Officer. He leads the marketing, events and print and digital teams, which includes Convene magazine.
MacMillan has more than 30 years of experience in the global business events and tourism industry and has worked with business enterprises on every continent. His past leadership roles include CEO of VisitDFW, a regional consumer content marketing venture, CEO of Meeting Professionals International and CEO of Tourism Toronto.
He developed and led Vancouver, B.C.’s successful national bid for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. MacMillan also runs BANDWIDTH consultancy, advising destinations on event sales and marketing strategies and served as consortium consulting partner in the Destinations International DestinationNEXT global initiative.
MacMillan has received numerous awards including twice being named one of the Top Twenty most influential people in the global MICE industry.