When Dave Dow, retired senior vice president of sales (Canada) of Gordon Food Service (GFS) spoke to students in The School of Hospitality Business at MSU on Wednesday, November 11, he didn’t talk about food.
He talked about leadership. Specifically, servant leadership. The kind that requires listening, empathy, authenticity, respectfulness, fairness, honesty, and coaching. Dave is an acknowledged expert on the topic, having served in a number of sales, management, and executive positions with GFS since 1973. He retired from the company in 2004 as executive vice president, then created and taught HB 347 – The Foodservice Distribution Channel in The School as an adjunct professor from 2004 – 2009. Dave returned to GFS at that point, serving until his retirement in 2012. He is now a consultant and speaker, and frequently returns to speak in MSU classrooms.
Dave spoke in the class he developed, HB 347, now taught by Professor of Practice Mike Rice (BA ’76), retired MSU Auxiliary Services director emeritus. He also addressed the students in Professor Ron Cichy’s (BA ’72, MBA ’77) HB 451 – Your Emerging Leadership Journey.
Professor Rice said, “In formulating HB 347, Dave Dow provided essential information about manufacturers, brokers, and distributors. Our students benefit greatly from his leadership, passion, and wisdom.”
Dave discussed the “millennials,” noting that the students and their eventual staff members are in this demographic category. Typically, he said, this is a group that wants mentoring, growth, feedback, and the opportunity to be effective. Autocratic “My way or the highway” leadership won’t work for millennials, Dave said.
A servant leader will examine his/her values, which will in turn inform all decisions. Trust and respect are the cornerstones, Dave said, quoting John Gordon, Sr., the co-founder of GFS: “If we have to cheat to get the business, lose it.” Dave explained, “We build values and reaffirm them first; we build and develop people for tomorrow second; and we achieve results third.”
A good leader will learn to find balance in life, between physical health; spiritual health; and mental, educational, and personal growth. He or she will recognize the difference between passion and obsession.
Dave gave students practical ways to become this kind of servant leader. “Surround yourself with a strong team, laugh at yourself, treat people fairly and honestly, make eye contact and be an active listener.” Instead of giving instructions, involve staff members in decision making.
Closing his remarks, Dave quoted Albert Schweitzer, who said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be. But one thing I do know. The only ones among you who will really be happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
“Our School owes a debt of gratitude to Dave Dow,” says Dr. Cichy. “He generously created and taught a very important subject for a number of years, and he demonstrates with his life the concept of servant leadership.”