MIAMI BEACH, Fla./Ft. LAUDERDALE, Fla.–Two separate credit union audiences meeting just 30 miles apart heard from different experts–a chef famous for feeding people after disasters and an author who sees a Flintstones-like advantage for CUs in a Jetsons world–who shared similar, outside perspectives on what CUs need to be doing.
Speaking to credit union audiences where Erik Qualman, who addressed Trellance’s Immersion 19 meeting in Ft. Lauderdale and whose message can be found here, and Jose Andres, who keynoted CO-OP’s THINK 19 meeting in Miami Beach.
Andres is equally famous for his restaurants as for his work helping to feed people around the world following natural disasters, and he shared his experiences and insights with credit unions here on how they can build their own fires, what he thinks of the immigration issue, and more.
Andrés, a Spanish-American who is often credited with bringing the concept of small plate dining to the U.S. and who owns more than 30 restaurants around the world as part of Think Food Group, is also the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. He was awarded a 2015 National Humanities Medal at a 2016 White House ceremony, and more recently helped provide more than 35-million meals to the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Andres addressed credit unions during CO-OP’s THINK 19 Conference here, receiving a standing ovation as he took the stage.
In an opening video, Andres shared the story of how as a child in Spain he assisted his father incooking large pots of paella with his father. But initially, his father wouldn't allow him to do anything but tend to the fire, including gathering the wood, building the fire and managing it. Once he became an expert at managing the fire, his father told him that was the key to cooking anything.
At the THINK meeting, Andres participated as part of a Q&A with conference emcee Jean Chatzky. Here’s what he had to say:
Chatzky: Where is your fire? Where did this desire come from?
Andres:It took me all my life to understand the words of my father about building the fire. Helping people is a fairly basic thing and everyone should be doing it in life. We are only as good as the people we have next to us and we all like to think we can do it alone—especially if you are a man. Understand the basic principle that the power of who you are is because of those who covered your blind spots. The things I am not good at is really what drives me to do things. I am surrounded by people who are much better than I am, including at cooking. For me, if you can control the fire you can do any cooking you want.
In your business you don’t just help, you give people hope. That’s what you really do.
Chatzky: Tell us more about your life.
Andres:I have been an immigrant my entire life. I moved from northern Spain to Barcelona and life gave me the opportunity to serve in the Spanish Navy. I was cooking for the admiral. I joined the navy not to cook for the admiral; I wanted to see the world. The good thing was I had the opportunity to tell the admiral I wanted to sail on a four-mast tall ship, and he granted me that wish that allowed me to sail around the world. I had seen the same ship in Barcelona as a kid.
When I finished my military service, I went to New York to be a cook in a restaurant, and I never looked back. I know where I belong and I love America, as well.
Chatzky: We are talking a lot at this conference about cooperation. What can you tell us about partnership and organization in terms of driving action and results?
Andres:My mother and father were nurses. And they used to work in different shifts, so the hospital was always a middle point for me and my brothers. For me, I was always fascinated by the emergency room and all the people working together. In the Navy, there was this amazing boat, with 300 men doing different things during a storm, but the boat was always going forward.
I think it’s very important we step out of our daily lives and see how the mechanisms of the entity we work with and the people we work with, how everything works. It’s something everyone should do. When you are inside the system, if you can take yourself out of the system and see it work, that is fascinating.
Chatzky: When do you stop planning and start cooking?
Andres:Our brain is more important than the things we own. Those things slow you down. Your brain has to adapt. One of the worst enemies in emergencies, or when something happens that is bigger than what you are prepared for, is an Excel spreadsheet. In times of hunger, you cannot plan to feed people a week from now. There were 3.7 million Americans on the island without anything. No food. No clean water, No gas. And it lasted for weeks. It’s very important in these moments to give more value to adaptation. It’s important to say, we didn’t prepare for this. We must train our brains to adapt to the new circumstance, or we become weaker, not as successful. For us as a relief organization, we try to become very good at adapting.
Chatzky: You have to empower people closest to the situation to act. How does that happen:
Andres:Sometimes, what we are missing is while focused on the people who went through the mayhem, it’s important to support them. But as soon as you can, you have to use those members of the community who know best. Without them, it’s very hard to provide the right services, the right relief, as expedited as you need. In Mozambique, we were in this beautiful town after a cyclone, and we had local chefs from other African countries taking care of the kitchens, while the locals start doing the work they know best.
Chatzky: You set audacious goals, like ending world hunger, and yet at same time you focus on simple solutions to get there. It seems to be a disconnect.
Andres:It seems like a disconnect, but here is what happens. In Puerto Rico, when you put out the number of 1.5 million meals a day, it’s, ‘What? That’s a lot of meals!’ But if you are able to start fragmenting and breaking down what you are doing in smaller numbers, like 10,000 to 20,000 or 20,000 to 40,000, suddenly it’s easier to achieve. We went from 20 friends to 25,000 volunteers. We went from one kitchen to 26 kitchens. At one point, we had 937 delivery points. It seems impossible, but at the end we were able to do 150,000 meals per day. The difference between us and other bigger organizations is we were boots on the ground.
Sometimes, the complexity is created by us. We hold meetings when the best plan shows up when you are working. You solve issues on the spot. Make the decision. Just make sure the plan is clear and empower your people.
Chatzky: How do you rally a team?
Andres:We now have something like 30 restaurants and hundreds and hundreds of cooks and front of the house people and managers. In the end, there is one thing I believe we always did very well. In your office you have an organizational chart and the boss sits on top of mountain and he thinks he is the boss, and when people in the middle try to develop new ideas the boss pushes them down the mountain. And sometimes you have very good ideas from different people in different parts of the pyramid, and those ideas don’t make it. What if instead of a pyramid you began working in an organizational chart that is flatter. Everybody knows who the boss is, but everybody knows where everyone else is and supports each other. No one is afraid someone else is going to take their job. I want to believe in my organizations we work more like that.
Chatzky: As an immigrant, do you believe there are advantages in how you see the world?
Andres:Being an immigrant, we receive a lot in the countries in which we arrive. We have a duty to give back, and I believe that is true for all immigrants. We are afraid of people who are not like us, who don’t have your accent, or who do not have your religion. I think immigrants make us all richer in ways we never understand.
I think America right now going through this thing in politics with the border and immigrants, and in the end we need to tell our Republican and Democrat friends to remember we were founded as, “We the people…” and that means everyone. I hear both parties go to extremes to make their points. We need to come to the middle where the best of America is.
What we need is immigration control. We have 11 million undocumented in America and now we say they are bad people. Yes, they came illegally, but they have been working on our farms and golf courses and fishing boats, and they are part of what America is about today. We say we don’t want immigrants, but we are using them and benefiting from them by not paying them the minimum wage and giving them no benefits.
We need comprehensive immigration reform that brings those 11 million out of the shadows and everyone should be a part of the American dream. That’s what I believe.