Speech: Aylwin Lewis, 2014 Executive Honoree

LORI HAUGHEY: Good evening, my name Lori Haughey, and I work for Potbelly Sandwich Shops based out of here in Chicago, Illinois. And I have the pleasure tonight to introduce Aylwin Louis our CEO and President of Potbelly. Aylwin, every Monday morning without fail, the very one of the first emails in everybody’s inbox in the Potbelly nation is an email with an inspirational quote attached. These quotes are very purposeful.

They’re selected with passion. There’s always a theme for the month. And everybody in the Potbelly Nation gets this quote. And they are passed on. These quotes are appreciated and they are shared. But this is our fearless leader to start our week off the entire Potbelly Nation has this quote and it drives them, it sets the stage. And we are ready to march forward in having the best week of making the best sandwiches in the country.

I was recently at a strategic meeting with Aylwin and he shared with the group of individuals that were in this room that his favorite role was coaching and he is motivated by helping other individuals.

And this is so apparent in Aylwin’s daily actions and his future planning. He is so thoughtful and purposeful with every move he makes, but he is truly motivated by watching and seeing other people succeed. So I was one of the very lucky individuals that was selected to be in the 2013 mentorship program, and Aylwin was my mentor.

Very early in the year, we had the entire schedule planned out to the day what hour it was going to be, it was calendarized perfectly. The beautiful part was the first half of the year, the agenda was also set and Aylwin, again, very purposefully and strategically selected the topics that he knew would best drive my career with Potbelly.

He knew what I would probably get the most out of, were my opportunities like, it was perfect. And I said, what happens to second half of the year? And he goes, well, that’s for you to decide. You choose the topics. So I had the opportunity to top into Aylwin’s mind and his brain and go What intrigues me? What are areas that I know I really need to expand my knowledge base on? And he really built this mentorship program around something that he knew would drive my career whether it’s with Potbelly or beyond. Because again, he really wants nothing more than to see people succeed.

The number of mentees he has, again somebody counted earlier, it’s countless, there are so many mentees that Aylwin has and right now with the thousands of employees at Potbelly, he is a mentor to every one of us. So at the end of the session of 2013, he says what were your takeaways, tell me what was it?

That you really got out of this session this year. And we had some very, very powerful sessions together. And after I recapped, he looked at me, and his final words to me as my formal mentor, because he will always be my mentor, he goes, Lori, I will always be a resource to you.

He goes, I will always be a resource. So I have one of the most valuable resources in Aylwin Lewis. Many people would say that your most valuable resource is the value of, it’s time, it is your most valuable resource. So Aylwin, I thank you, for your gift of time to me, to mentor me, to make me the best person I can be professionally and personally. And I am so proud to honor you tonight with the Executive Award this evening.


AYLWIN LEWIS: It’s always interesting when you hear people talk about you nicely. [LAUGHTER] Who is that person? I want to thank Ron, and fellow board members at The Plank Center. I’m not a PR executive or expert.

I’m just a sandwich maker and I’m fortunate to be at the top of a great company called Potbelly. We’re local here, appreciate Lori. Part of the job of a leader to me is to go out and identify leaders. And I can still remember the first day I met Lori, she was in our Lincoln Square store and we had hired her to be a multi-unit supervisor, but we put everybody new through the paces, and she had to run the shop for about 90 days and I just remember her smile when I walked in. And she walked up to me and a big smile, shook my hand.

And said, I’m here to do a great job for you. And we got the chance to bring her into the corporate office. And smart, passion, could take really good coaching well, could take constructive stuff really well. It’s like, well, this lady can do a lot more for us.

How can I help her? That is a prime motivation. I want to thank Nancy Turk for being here. She’s our chief people officer. But success in business is like mine is predicated on people. People who come from different walks of life, different reasons for being with you, but to me, people deserve coaching.

They deserve an opportunity. And they deserve involvement. In my career, I had four great mentors at different times in my career. My first mentor was, I was working for a company called Jack in the Box, and at the top of the organization was a guy named Bob Noogin. And what I learned from Bob was the power of spending individual time with people that then reported to you.

I was a lowly district manager running eight restaurants in Houston, Texas. I got a chance to spend time with Bob on a company orientation and what was supposed to be 30 minutes turned into three hours. We’re getting ready to roll out a new management by an objective program. He actually showed me his objectives and how it worked.

And just the memory of that time, spending with a guy, and we became long-time friends. Kyle Craig, when I went to KFC USA, taught me that you could be nice, and be at the top of your organization that your values to stay intact that you can be a generally nice person and you could win.

Probably the biggest influence of my career was David Novak CEO of Yum. Gosh, I actually worked for David for about ten years. Power there was to bring your whole self to work. Before David, I was very compartmentalized. You would say I was Spock at work because I didn’t show emotions because I didn’t want to be vulnerable.

And Dave was just like, no. You have to bring your whole self to work. People want to see leaders- that they know you’re human. And there’s a safety zone here that it won’t be used against you. And that last person is Andy Pearson, who was our founding chairman when we spun off from PepsiCo.

Andy was the smartest person I’ve ever met, and Andy was old school. And we did 360s. And after the first year, Andy, as Chairman, got his 360. It was awful because Andy was old school and I was in one meeting, I was sitting there and we’re doing a business review and he looked at the management team, I was at PETA at the time, and he said, a bunch of monkeys could do better than you guys. It came as a wow. But he guys 360 and Andy was early 70s and the 360 was brutal. You don’t fit the culture, you’re rude, you’re crude.

Why are you the chairman? And he went public to the whole company that says I apologize and I will do better. And at that age, he didn’t have to. He had run PepsiCo, he had taught at Harvard business school, he had been at Clayton Dubilier, and the notion that he’d be willing to change and communicate that to a whole company broadly was just very impressive.

It says, you never stop learning. You can always take constructive and you can always get better. My motivation in my career is, how do you help others? Because I don’t take a lot of credit for where I am or what I have accomplished. I’m the composite of almost every good person I’ve met.

I’ve been fortunate and smart enough to work hard and to listen and to learn. I think leadership is a privilege and I think the way you continue to earn that privilege to lead is to give back. As you learn, how can you help others learn? For me, the mentorship that we do is a process and Lori described it very well.

I tend to start off the beginning year with several mentees and it’s what do you want to get out of it and we do have frequency of meeting and my own requirement is you got to show up and be prepared to kind of do the work. And I’ll meet you more than halfway.

All I can say is that I’m very proud to get this award, I’m very humbled by it. It’s very important to me. I’m in the dream business, if I can help the company reach their dreams and help the folks that work for us reach their dreams, that’s a real win for me.

I also believe that you don’t have the right to say no when you’re at the top of the organization leading. Someone asked for help, someone asked you to mentor them, you don’t have the right to say no. You are required, you are compelled to help others. It’s a belief and that’s what I want to do.

So, I’ll try to live up to this award. I really appreciate it, it means a lot. In my home city, the city where our business is, and thank you very much.


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