To grow, you have to be open and vul­ner­a­ble. You have to have thick skin, and share even when you’re go­ing back­ward.”

- JOhN mIllEr re­flects on serv­ing ev­ery­body

CryS­tAl AShby: hello, John. It’s al­most 10 years for you at Denny’s, right?

JOhN mIllEr: Yes, Fe­bru­ary the 1st.

CA: Con­grat­u­la­tions. has it been the ride you thought it would be?

Jm: it’s never as you plan. my first ride in from the air­port, my cab driver asked, “isn’t denny’s the com­pany that had some race prob­lems not too long ago?” that had hap­pened 17—now 26! – years be­fore! de­spite our progress, we still needed to change that nar­ra­tive.

CA: So, how did you change it?

Jm: First of all, we had to own it. sec­ond, we had to set met­rics and goals, hold lead­ers ac­count­able, so that it’s part of your busi­ness lit­er­ally every day, from the shift level and all the way to the strate­gic mul­ti­year plan that the board en­dorses.

CA: how did that process evolve into some­thing you sup­port so strongly?

Jm: Well, it’s a per­sonal de­ci­sion. is “this is good for busi­ness” enough of a rea­son? does that mean if it’s bad for busi­ness, it’s okay to dis­crim­i­nate? my par­ents said no, and i agree. You need to be prin­ci­pled to be suc­cess­ful. You have to be re­spon­si­ble to the con­stituen­cies you’re serv­ing, and we serve ev­ery­one.

CA: have con­ver­sa­tions in your or­ga­ni­za­tion changed now?

Jm: Well, it’s re­ally just more of the same. We’re pur­pose-driven, and our pur­pose is we love feed­ing peo­ple: open to all, serv­ing all, sup­port­ing all the com­mu­ni­ties, buy­ing from all com­mu­ni­ties, and rep­re­sent­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which we serve to make our liv­ing. We have a wildly di­verse guest base, so our man­age­ment teams, from en­try-level all the way through the board, should be wildly di­verse. We’re not there yet. in the past five or six years, we’ve made progress on our board – our chair is Black, and she may be the only one in full ser­vice – and in our hires. But by the time you get to the lit­tle pyra­mid at the top, it’s white male. Why is that? What are the lenses we use to make those se­lec­tions? What are the bi­ases that pre­vail? one of the prob­lems is that turnover is low in the mid­dle to up­per ranks, where se­nior of­fi­cers have spent decades with our com­pany to reach those po­si­tions. so now when we have an open­ing, we look through the en­tire ros­ter. We set tar­gets and goals, re­quire a tal­ented, di­verse slate of can­di­dates, and we hit our goals. We’re see­ing progress. We em­brace open­ness, and that means we set tar­gets and goals and talk about what eq­uity means. our con­ver­sa­tions could in­sult some peo­ple in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment, but we’re all get­ting more com­fort­able. i’d say the ma­jor­ity of our work­force has got­ten com­fort­able, but there are still cul­tural sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

CA: What kind of trans­parency do you have with your in­vestors?

Jm: if you don’t pub­lish your sta­tis­tics, you can’t re­ally track progress. to grow, you have to be open and vul­ner­a­ble. You have to have thick skin, and share even when you’re go­ing back­ward.

CA: One last ques­tion. how do you go about mak­ing that cul­ture sus­tain­able?

Jm: the cul­ture of a com­pany, fam­ily, home or busi­ness is more pow­er­ful than any in­di­vid­ual. em­bed­ding prin­ci­ples and val­ues be­comes an an­chor to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, with tremen­dous roots and sta­bil­ity be­yond any given leader. so, we make sure we talk about this all the time, at every level. i’ve boiled it down to three sound bites: ev­ery­one is wel­come at denny’s. ev­ery­one is treated like your fa­vorite guest. ev­ery­one is treated with kind­ness and re­spect. With Covid-19 complaints go­ing up, we have new chal­lenges. But when you model care and love, it unites peo­ple. my hope is those prin­ci­ples and val­ues do stick. if they’re eroded, it will de­stroy a com­pany. it will de­stroy a fam­ily. it will de­stroy a na­tion. We’ve got to care for each other.

CA: I am go­ing to close with that last state­ment, John, be­cause you re­ally landed the plane!

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