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From Teaching to Learning at Darden

February 18, 2014

By: Kay Francis, Director of Concept Support, Darden Restaurants

From Teaching to Learning at Darden

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At one point, I thought I was going to be a teacher. Yet, here I am having found a career and company I love.  I went to college at Bethune-Cookman University (at the time Bethune-Cookman College) to one day become a teacher. I love to learn, so I figured it would be a role with endless opportunities to learn.

Right before starting my career as a teacher, I applied for and accepted a temporary position with Darden’s Supply Chain team.  I immediately fell in love with the company and the Core Values that we stand for.  I’m constantly learning from the great network of people who work here and from the opportunities that have come my way.

Now 13 years later, I’m still with Darden and still taking on new challenges to learn and develop. While working at Darden, I simultaneously pursued my Master of Business Administration, allowing me additional opportunities to gain further knowledge. I am lucky to have had great leaders and a great network at Darden who helped develop me. Reflecting on my career journey to this point, I would like to offer the following advice:

  • Network-When networking, don’t focus solely on job growth.  Network to open yourself to other ways of thinking, new learning opportunities and experiences that you may not otherwise encounter.  Challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and interact with people that look, think, and believe differently than you do.  You will walk away with a diverse perspective and become well rounded in your thought process. One way to do that is by taking advantage of Darden’s Employee Resource Groups and attending events of groups that may not be the most natural fit for you.
  • Seek out a career sponsor-Build relationships with those within your company who you can learn from, who can help advocate for you and who can find opportunities for your career path. Find a sponsor who can help you build better relationships across the company and help you navigate your career choices.
  • Be willing to take risks-Above all, I would recommend that you be open to trying new experiences. While in my previous role at Darden as Director of Food Service Distribution, I was presented the opportunity to move to California and help ensure a smooth integration for Yard House into the Darden family. After much consideration, I decided to take the plunge to move across the country to a completely unfamiliar area; sight unseen, no foundation and no connections in CA.  It was scary but incredibly fulfilling to do something so far outside of my comfort zone, yet it has been one of the best and most rewarding decisions of my life.  I have learned in one year what could have taken years to accomplish.    

Being at Darden for the last 13 years continues to be a journey centered on learning.  I have met some incredibly talented people along the way who have helped me see things differently, who I have been able to share my experiences with, and overall it has made me a better-rounded individual, both personally and professionally.  

No matter what your desired career path is, be open to the opportunities that come your way and be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.  There is always something you can learn from the people that surround you.

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