The Power of One Interaction

Dave Lu
September 5, 2023

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the inaugural The Prosper Forum on Amelia Island in Florida. It was a unique gathering of some of the top leaders in the foodservice and hospitality industry. Speakers and attendees included the CEOs of Yum! Brands (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC), Inspire Brands (Arby’s, Dunkin’, Jimmy John’s, Sonic, BWW), Denny’s, Jersey Mike’s and more. 

I was waiting in line for dinner, in front of this gentleman, and we started chatting. He didn't know who I was, and I didn't know who he was. We ended up sitting down to break bread together and had the most amazing conversation. We talked about the state of San Francisco and crime, Texas and the governor, the polarization of American politics, the falsified history of the Alamo, the Lakers series Winning Time on HBO, the 1994 NBA Finals between the Knicks vs. Rockets and so much more. Then we started sharing about our personal career experiences, especially as a Black and Asian man in America. We were both enlightened by the conversation, which is why it was so memorable. I was so inspired, not only by his life experiences (he’s visited over 130 countries), but by his thirst for knowledge and truth. I've met a lot of impressive people in my life, but few as accomplished in their careers.

Aylwin Lewis was the COO of Pizza Hut and then Yum! Brands, he became the CEO of Kmart and eventually CEO of Sears Holdings after the merger. He would go on to become CEO of Potbelly Sandwich Works where he grew the brand. During that time, he served on the boards of The Walt Disney Company, Halliburton, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., Red Robin and currently is a board director for Marriott International, Voya Financial, Caliber Collision and The Chefs'​ Warehouse. And I’m leaving a lot off of this impeccable resume.

During his interview on stage at the conference this morning, he shared about his experiences and his career learnings. He spoke about the importance of values and just wanting to hire the best people for the job. When he was at Potbelly, his executive team started as 6 men and 1 woman and he transitioned it to 4 women and 3 men. He wanted his leadership teams and managers to reflect their customers and neighborhoods. Diverse teams lead to richer conversations with more perspectives. He should know from experience, because he's been in many important conversations with a seat at the table. He’s also positively impacted so many lives along the way as a leader and mentor. I shared only one example in the comments (because the character limit can’t contain them), but his lineage of influence is so broad reaching and powerful.

After he was interviewed, he was surprised by two brothers he had inspired when they were just young boys. Aylwin was with Jack in the Box early on in his career and an immigrant mother from India was one of the first franchisees. She had a meeting with Aylwin but had no childcare, so she brought them with her. Many would have scoffed or told her to leave them outside, but he invited them to join and learn something. She told those boys to keep an eye on Aylwin, because he would do big things one day. She was right, and they were inspired by him the whole way. Today, Mitesh Gala is the CEO of Altametrics, one of the most successful technology companies in hospitality and Anand Gala is a giant in the restaurant industry who was a huge multi-brand franchise owner and now one of the most influential investors in growing brands through his firm Gala Capital Partners. Their one interaction with Aylwin over 40 years ago had a lasting impact. He immediately recognized them when they were introduced on stage and asked about their mother when he greeted them. He clearly lived his values and cared about people. Never underestimate the power and impact of one interaction.

I feel so blessed to have been in line with him to share this serendipitous meeting. You never know who you will meet, unless you reach out and make that connection. I have a feeling we'll continue our conversation for years to come and I very much look forward to it.