Turning a successful family business into a giving back opportunity to the community
Far from the general accepted ideas that imply only large corporations have the financial assets to make a $250,000 donation to a charity, Chefs Catering is a small, family-owned catering company that figured out a way to give back in a big way by simply being creative.
Donating 50,000 meals over a year is not something a lot of small business can afford. Yet for Justin Siklis, President of Chefs Catering, a well-thought initiative is all it takes to help Red Door Family Shelter provide food to their residents. With a simple yet impactful endeavour, corporations that already require catering services can now automatically gift meals to the women and children seeking refuge at Red Door by simply ordering meals from a special menu.
A family affair
Over four decades ago in Greece, chef Peter Siklis developed a love for the restaurant industry. A passion that he quickly passed on to all of those with whom he worked, in particular his son Justin Siklis... “As far as I can remember, the kitchen has been home. I’ve always been working alongside my dad.” shared Justin.
In 1974, now living in Canada Peter founded Chefs Catering – a catering company that reflected his hard work, his ability to adapt to his client’s needs and his understanding of the catering industry. Servicing a number of social gatherings such as weddings and special celebrations at first, the business experienced a strong success over the years, growing beyond his expectations. Driven primarily by subsidized cafeterias, the local family business quickly went from a single office cafeteria to more than 60 locations around the GTA. “My family comes from humble beginnings. My grandparents and parents started their own companies from nothing and turned them into successful businesses,” explained Justin.
By maintaining a steady focus on delicious and nutritious foods and high-quality service, chef Peter Siklis built a thriving catering business during his 27-year career at the helm of the company. In 2001, the time came to hand over the reins to the next generation. “I never really questioned who would take care of the family business. It’s a family project we all contributed to and worked together for,” explained Justin.
By that time, the operating environment his father knew had changed dramatically. With the arrival of large, international companies in the industry, local businesses had no other choice than to adapt. To overcome this challenge, Justin opened the door to what would be the next gigantic step in Chefs Catering’s history: corporate catering.
His unbridled attention to quality soon led the company to pursue expansion plans and to continually reach new heights, with locations all across the GTA (Toronto, Burlington, Oshawa and Richmond Hill) and with corporate catering as the majority of the business. “There are a lot of local caterers in the city, but it’s our flexibility, partnership and commitment to deliver the best experience regardless of the corporation’s size that set us apart,” explained Justin. Today, the company’s is in full swing and boasts an impressive roster of corporate clients, including Staples Canada, Coca Cola Canada, CGI and Apple Canada to only name a few.
A call to give back
With a deep sense of gratitude for the company’s success, Justin felt the need to incorporate an initiative to give back to his community, sharing his family’s passion with others.
For the past 35 years, Red Door Family Shelter has been delivering support services to homeless families, refugees, and women escaping intimate partner abuse with their children. A charitable organization that provides safe and supportive emergency shelter to over 500 families in the Greater Toronto Area every year, Red Door develops programs to help families heal, rebuild their lives and integrate back into the community.
“We are humbled and extremely thankful for our partnership with Chefs Catering,” explains Carol Latchford, Executive Director at Red Door Family Shelter. “This opportunity will have a huge impact on our organization’s bottom-line and the families we serve.”
“We all know the cost of food and it doesn’t take much to do what we’re doing, it just requires a time commitment,” explains Justin. “When people feel safe, are cared for and well fed, it gives them a sense of dignity and it empowers them in other aspects of their life.”
Small company, big impact
When creativity and a desire to help are aligned, you don’t need to write a big cheque to make a big difference. That’s how Chefs Catering created the Red Door Menu, a buy one give one program where companies of all sizes can donate to the shelter by simply ordering from this special menu. While the team volunteers their time to prepare and serve meals to the shelter, the volume of orders received enables Chefs Catering to cover the food costs of the donated meals – so companies can give back effortlessly. The program has a goal of donating 50,000 meals in 2019, which represents a savings of $250,000 that Red Door will be able to reallocate from buying meals into other much-needed services.
It can be very challenging for local companies to survive in a global industry, find an opportunity for growth and make an impact in their community. Yet, inspirational initiatives such as this demonstrate that it is possible to create the perfect balance between community involvement and business development. Merging business growth with a social perspective, the partnership launched by Justin not only helps him fulfill his commitment to give back, but also generates more job opportunities and a viable business plan.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.