Celebrating Successes Among 2024’s Leading Women

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Participants in the FER 2024 Women in Leadership Panel are making an impact in the FE&S industry by building relationships, constantly learning and keeping an eye to the future with a willingness to evolve. In honor of March’s Women’s History Month, meet five leading women, each representing a segment: consultants, dealers, service agents, operators and manufacturers’ reps.

Sojo 2023 copySojo Alex

Principal, Envision Strategies

 

Alex has been breaking barriers and opening doors for herself and others since she first came to the U.S. from Bahrain. She was the firstborn child in a family not used to seeing women chase their dreams for a career. But with her parents’ support, she attended graduate school at Loyola University Chicago and paved the way for her female cousins to also follow their dreams. She continued to find inspiration and support from others, including her bosses at the University of North Florida and Michigan State University, who took a chance on a young Indian woman trying to find her way in a male-dominated industry. She became principal at Envision Strategies in 2023 and looks forward to the opportunity to be a leader within the firm.

What do you love most about your job?

With our focus on higher education, what we’re seeing is a transition in the way people come to the dining experience. Some people might still sit around the table and share a meal together, while others are finding their community on their phones, and I love the challenge of designing spaces that welcome everyone. I enjoy the strategy and planning that comes with each job, as we work with our clients to meet students’ needs, maintain the campus culture and balance costs while creating proposals for foodservice experiences.

What advice would you give other women coming up in the industry?

I’ve learned it’s important to ask for what you want. As women, we often don’t ask; we just hope someone will notice. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. It takes courage, and for that I recommend building a network of people around you. I have relationships with people, some even competitors, that I can call on at any time and they will give me support.


patti 3 copyPatti Chesney

Vice President of Merchandising, Hubert

Thirty-seven years ago, Chesney started out in a call center, but when the merchandising team found out her talent for communicating and solving customer problems, they quickly brought her on as a buyer. As her career progressed, one thing remained at the center, which was her passion for people and the role foodservice plays in our culture. She understands food is a large part of everyday life, including people’s health and sense of community, and has felt passionate about a career centered on that vital part of our culture.

What are you most proud of from the past year?

We are currently undergoing an integration with our sister company, Central Restaurant Products. It’s an effort to improve efficiencies and build something that will better serve all of our customers. I was proud to play a key role in creating a plan to combine our workstreams

and integrate processes and systems. I feel my talents in listening and communicating, especially when it comes to our customers and supplier partners, has been vital to keeping our messaging and values consistent and bringing this integration to fruition successfully.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m always looking for the next big trend. That’s what inspires me professionally. One thing I’m excited about now is a drive toward sustainability, from products being made of recycled materials to new ways of going to market. Some examples include using bulk milk dispensers in schools and reusable containers for to-go food. I find more of our customers are talking about sustainability, and by staying on top of innovations in the industry, I can help our company be on the leading edge of the trend.


debi 4 copyDebi Diamond

Co-Owner, Diamond Refrigeration

Diamond began a totally new career 10 years ago when she and her husband, Matt, founded Diamond Refrigeration. It was a big switch from her work in early childhood education, but she rose to the challenge. Diamond kept things running smoothly in the office, and willingly took on service calls when needed. She took advantage of resources within the industry to teach herself and help grow the business. It comes as no surprise she was asked to speak at the 2023 CFESA Conference as a leading woman in the industry.

What is one of the ingredients to your success as a company?

It all starts with creating a strong culture, where everyone who works with us is part of a community. We first make sure we’re supporting each other, and then we build that out into the community,

building relationships with our customers and making sure they feel valued. It’s a matter of training our service techs but also taking time to check in with customers on a regular basis.

What advice do you have for other women entering the service field?

It’s important early on to find a network of people to help you on your journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance, and don’t be intimidated. There are times when I walk into a service call and the first thing the operator says is, “Where’s Matt?” I know we’re blazing a trail as women in this space, and it’s important to remember that it’s not “us against them,” but that we’re all working together. I’ve found great resources through CFESA, where people come together to share ideas, failures and successes. These people are willing to be part of the solution.


1 TEMPLATE copyMartha Lares

Vice President, Store Design and Construction, Wetzel’s Pretzels

The year 2023 saw the grand opening of Twisted by Wetzel’s, a new concept for Wetzel’s Pretzels that currently has three locations. Lares played an integral role in leading the team of designers and consultants who created a new way to grow the brand’s product offerings and provide new opportunities for franchisees.

What strategies help you face the challenges in your job?

We opened 43 new sites last year, and as with any construction project, we saw typical challenges. Strategies such as going out for plan review as early as possible helped offset delays. But I’ve also learned the importance of building good relationships. Having open lines of communication with general contractors and respect for each other’s role leads to success.

Who in the foodservice industry inspires you?

My biggest inspiration comes from our franchisees. The restaurant franchising landscape presents a fair share of challenges, but we are privileged to work with a group who are enterprising, optimistic and have a committed desire to be part of the American dream, owning a business and contributing to the economy.

What advice do you have for other women in the foodservice industry?

It’s important in this industry to not stand still, but to constantly learn and grow. And from there, share your knowledge. I recommend everyone find a young person to mentor, to help create a better future and improve our industry’s success.


IMG 3319 copyMartha Lozano

Partner, Food Equipment Representatives

Lozano started on the finance side of the industry, but the Columbian native was called in to help Spanish-speaking customers from time to time, and she fell in love with the selling process. That moment changed her career trajectory, leading to various roles including international sales and project coordinator. In 2023, she became a partner at Food Equipment Representatives, serving as one of the first Latin American women to have an ownership role in a manufacturers’ rep group in the U.S.

What brings you joy in your career?

I love being a part of our customers’ success. One of the accounts I’m involved in purchased a high-performance fryer that most of the others in his chain weren’t using. I had shown him the benefits of all the features it offered, and he recently let me know he is now third in the country in sales for his chain. My grandfather taught me to always give 120%, and keep focused on winning. For me, the way I win is by offering a solution to my customers.

What are you most excited about in 2024?

I’m excited about the product lines of our manufacturing partners, especially the expanding options in ventless equipment. We are seeing a lot of smaller footprint kitchens and food trucks that don’t have space for traditional, larger equipment. The ventless solutions are great for those situations. Plus, it’s much better for the environment, and I believe that is something we all need to be thinking about.

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