The word innovation gets tossed around a lot, and it has become a buzzword for a number of industries and services. If you want to compete in today’s market, you have got to be an innovator. This is a particular challenge for established companies where risks are magnified—there are enormous profits, thousands of jobs, and publicly traded share prices on the line.
Like many industries, the restaurant industry also faces a variety of challenges keeping up with the rapid pace of change driven by the consumer trends and changing demographics. Growing preferences for healthier food options, concerns over environmental sustainability, heightened consumer expectations, increased competition from grocery stores, and rapidly advancing technology are rebuilding the traditional dining experience and coercing change on how the industry operates. While the millennial generation of consumers, with increasing spending power, is accelerating the industry’s response to such trends.
An effective leader recognizing the importance of embracing innovation in business is Sloane Perras, the Vice President Risk, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary for The Krystal Company. Established 85 years ago, Krystal is America’s second-oldest fast food restaurant. A passion that has been passed down from generation to generation, Krystal has become an experience that many families in Krystal’s communities have shared. Sloane describes Krystal as a brand that is built on honoring past memories and creating new memories for the future.
Sloane’s Journey of Professionalism
Sloane’s professional career began as a law clerk for Chief Judge William T. Boyett in Dalton, Georgia. Later, she served as the Assistant Corporate Counsel for Expeditors International of Washington, Inc., a Fortune 500 global logistics company. She then went on to spend more than two years as the Vice President, Assistant General Counsel & Assistant Corporate Secretary for Americold, the global leader in temperature-controlled warehousing and logistics to the food industry.
Prior to joining Krystal in May of 2013, Sloane had served as the Acting General Counsel and Senior Managing Counsel for Aaron’s Inc., where she provided strategic advisement and had responsibility for complex litigation and profit and loss accountability for the multinational brand. In her current role of the Chief Legal Officer, Sloane oversees all legal aspects for the Krystal brand, including risk management, litigation management, compliance and employment law. Her expertise includes compliance, business advisory, mergers & acquisitions and employment relations.
Sloane is grateful to her childhood best friend and former spouse, an Air Force Officer, for impelling the sheer changes in her career trajectory as well as in her personal life. Being an army spouse, she traveled well beyond the small town she grew up in and became a citizen of the world. This in turn effectuated her desire of meeting and working with people all over the world. She affirms, “I’ve interacted with co-workers and business partners from all different cultures and learned about many different types of businesses… all because I chose a life that’s without traditional stability. I learned the importance of standing on my own two feet, advocating for myself, my career, and, most importantly, my well-being and happiness… even when it was challenging and unexpected for me to do so.”
Sloane attained global insights through her extensive experience and proved herself as a recognized leader promoting diversity in her community and industry, receiving recognition as an inductee to OnBoard’s 2017 Executive Leadership Honor Roll; the 2016 recipient of the Women’s In-House Counsel Leadership Institute’s Bridge-Builder Award; the 2015 Diversity Champion by the Atlanta Business Chronicle; and the Counsel on Call In-House Woman of the Year in 2013 as well as internal recognition for founding and sponsoring Krystal’s Women’s Foodservice Foundation chapter and acting as Krystal’s executive liaison for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
An Instinctive Desire for Authenticity
The legal strategist believes that Authenticity – without exception – has always led her to the best possible outcome. Sloane finds empowerment from trailblazers, and specifically Iris Apfel – the self-made style maven. Not only because the exemplary woman always has her own distinct sense of self that is uniquely and authentically her – even though holding true to yourself in any field is worthy of admiration – but also because she translates that confidence into the causes that matter to her like museums, art, and what those things can teach us about ourselves.
Every year, Sloane participates in a vision boarding event, and Iris Apfel inspired her and became the theme of her vision board for 2017. “She (Iris) is unabashedly her, even when it’s not popular. And, she believes that you know when something’s right – when it feels good as you’re doing it. There’s a real sense of empowerment that comes from that kind of courage,” says Sloane.
Sloane’s Vision as a leader
Krystal is a brand that is deeply ingrained in the memories of so many people – which is rare and special. It is a great asset to have, and it is also one of the things that we all work hardest to preserve – providing that ongoing special memory association with Krystal for every person who comes through the doors.
Notwithstanding all those memories, the corporate world is tough–some days more than others, some people more than others. When Sloane first came to Krystal, she had to spend quite a bit of time finding her niche. It was a new industry for her, a newly acquired company with all new executive leadership, including a new CEO, and really no existing peer relationships to fall back on. It is a common assumption, everybody makes in the corporate environment, that people have 360-degree vision of everything going on around them – especially at the executive level – when; in fact, the opposite is usually the case. Executives, especially CEOs, are relying on their teams to keep them informed and insightful. Sloane knows how critical those first few months are with a company to build the relationships to be able to pass on reliable and thought-provoking insights. However, the ways she had established those relationships before did not work as well now that she is part of this executive team.
Sloane asserts, “Brainstorming for new solutions is harder than relying on our prior paths to success; for me, the executive level created a need for new ways to build relationships amongst my peers, my new manager and CEO and my own team and co-workers. Not surprisingly though, the moment we (e.g., I) accept that there are ways to go forward other than what we originally thought, that’s when we can have new successes, which begins the meaningful and useful exchange of ideas.”
Encouraging Innovation & Creative Thinking
Sloane’s vision to encourage creative thinking and innovation goes beyond Krystal. She acts as a conduit between 7 different companies, 4 different brands, commonly owned at the equity level. She has implemented the first shared services arrangement for her private equity’s restaurant portfolio providing counseling and strategy for all 7 teams. And, she does act as that conduit, using her ability to see activity across all the companies to leverage their combined bargaining power for the benefit of all. In one recent case, she combined three ongoing negotiations into one, leveraging the strength to bargain from one, large national platform instead of 3 smaller players. Now, the 3 companies negotiated better terms; and, the remaining companies also can onboard without any delay for their own negotiations.
What encourages Sloane the most is the diversity of leadership in Krystal and the restaurant industry at large. “It is common for us to see women, people of color and multi-generational peers in various leadership roles in our company and the industry. Also, even with technology and the move towards “online”, there are still many personal “touches” within the restaurant industry that allow us to build relationships with our guests, who become part of our families. This advantage should enable restaurants to evolve, be nimble and innovative,” concludes Sloane.