The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

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Full show notes can be found at

#346: Cameron Mitchell is the founder & CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants.  In 2018, they celebrated their 25th anniversary. He employees more than 5,000 people and his restaurants do $300m/year in sales. He is the author of Yes Is The Answer, What Is The Question?  He has been recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, as a Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration and as one of 50 New Taste Makers by Nation’s Restaurant News.


  • “Leaders who sustain excellence believe in people.  They put trust in people.”
    • Must have strong culture and values
  • Writing your core values — The benefit of putting pen to paper and the courage to act on them (including firing a superstar if he doesn’t live up to the values set)
  • His goals:
    • Go to the Culinary Institute of America
    • Become GM at age 24
    • Regional at age 26
    • VP of Operations at age 30
    • Be president of a restaurant company by age 35
    • Go to the Culinary Institute of America
    • He woke his mom up at a 1:00am and told her his goals
  • “When you share your goals, people want to hold you accountable to them…”
  • He went to Culinary Institute of America. Same place as Anthony Bourdain. The CIA was the Harvard of culinary schools.
    • He got turned down initially because of his low high school grades — “I had the can do, but didn’t have the want to initially”
  • He once worked 100 days in a row without a day off (that included a 1 hour and 45 minute commute each way)
    • “I equate it to the doll that you punch and it comes right back up.” — Must be resilient
    • “You cannot build a life like this or be successful without a commitment to hard work”
  • Years ago Cameron was a young man with a dream, a yellow note pad, and a pen.  He wrote down 5 questions and answers that articulated who he would be, why he would exist, and what he believed and did as a restaurant company.
  • The 5 Questions:
    • Who are we?
    • What do we want to be?
    • Why are we in business?
    • What is your role?
    • What is our goal?
  • After those questions were answered, Cameron created their eight core values to live by…
  • Fundraising (for people to invest in his new restaurant business) was a grueling process. He got rejected 9 out of 10 pitches when trying to raise money for his first restaurant.  Cameron shares everything he learned from so much rejection and failure…
  • Initially Cameron was a bad boss and people threatened to quit because of him… He got help from Jim Collins and other mentors.
  • Why the answer is always yes… –> Cameron shares the symbolism of a milkshake.
  • To grow his business, he needed to hire great leaders to help him scale and run other restaurants… He shares the key qualities he looked for when making hiring decisions.  The first leader he hired 20+ years ago is still with him today.
  • “I’m constantly pushing on where could we be?  Constantly thinking about how we can be better?”
  • The Customer Comes Second — Book by Hal Rosenbluth that impacted Cameron.
  • Cameron gave 5% of the purchase price ($4.6m) to his associates (employees) when they sold a portion of their business to Ruth’s Chris and gave a unique gift/experience to his senior leaders (paid for their kids college tuition, sent them on a European trip with their spouse)
  • Associates must come first
  • Cameron described with emotion the power of having children had on him…
    • Before Cameron had even met his wife, he would tell people, “I’m working for a wife and kids I don’t even know yet.”
    • The moment of clarity when you have that walk with your wife… When she’s in the wheelchair holding your new baby.
    • “You can’t be successful at home if you’re not successful at work.  You can’t be successful at work if you’re not successful at home.”
    • “Everyone sees the outward success.  But the family is the inward success.”
    • Their associates get 8 weeks paid vacation.
  • The culture and values must hold up especially when times are tough
    • Cameron tells the story of a time when his best chef used bad language towards another associate.  Cameron fired him within five minutes.
    • “If we don’t live those values every single day, then they become no good.”
    • General life advice: “Integrity takes years to build and minutes to ruin.  You must lead with integrity.”
    • “Cutting corners in life will get you nowhere.”  Don’t think of the easier way to do things.  “If it were easy everybody would do it.  I don’t want the easy way, I want the right way.”
    • “Positive mental attitude.  It’s what you do with your day that defines you.  Be constantly aware of that.”
      • Be unwavering with your work ethic.  “We’re pushing forward every day.”

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