Article originally published by the Philadelphia Business Journal on November 16, 2020
Each year, the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University conducts Startup Fest, an event at which students from across the University showcase their business startups, attend workshops, participate in pitch competitions, and listen to the advice of accomplished entrepreneurs. This year, due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually.
One of the keynote speakers was Nicole Marquis, founder and CEO of restaurant holding company Marquis and Company, headquartered in Philadelphia with nine restaurants serving 100% plant-based food. HipCityVeg is Marquis’ signature fast-casual restaurant concept.
Marquis was interviewed by Chuck Sacco, assistant dean of strategic initiatives at the Close School and director of the Laurence Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. She spoke about the challenges of navigating the pandemic.
The restaurant industry plays an important role in the economic fabric and social vibrancy of Philadelphia, employing more than 80,000 people. When the pandemic hit, Marquis took a proactive leadership role in helping her industry by launching and leading “Save Philly Restaurants,” a coalition comprising 65 restaurant owners operating over 200 venues. The mission of the coalition is to create awareness of how precarious the restaurant scene in Philadelphia is.
Marquis said, “We built a strong coalition with other city restaurants and had a chance to advocate for our restaurants and industry. That is something that I never imagined us doing. Having a voice at the table when it comes to decisions the city and the state are making that impact our employees and businesses is very important. Save Philly Restaurants was able to influence those decisions.”
Out of that coalition came a decision by the city to close specific streets and approve street dining and cocktails to go. Marquis was already doing a robust take-out business that kept some cash coming in during the suspension of indoor dining.
Marquis’ comments reminded me of the attitude of all effective leaders who face seemingly insurmountable challenges with the attitude – “Don’t tell me it can’t be done. Find a way to do it.” She also reminded me of a principle that I embraced during my career: You want to control your own destiny regardless of how bad the environment in which you are operating. If you can’t control your destiny, you want to influence it as much as possible.
Marquis said, “[I had an experience] on a call with my leadership team that was so beautiful and gave me so much energy. I said, ‘Okay guys, there could be another shutdown as we approach winter. We are not going to have the outdoor seating that we had all summer, and this could be a really challenging time.’ They said, ‘You know what Nicole, we’ve done it before, we can do it again.’” She said, “Oh my gosh, this is so inspiring! They are not afraid of anything. My team gives me a lot of strength.”
Sacco asked Marquis if she could share some advice to student entrepreneurs starting their career journey. She said, “You have got to believe fully in what you are doing. For me, and many people watching this interview, when what you are doing has a positive impact on the greater good, it makes getting through the challenges, headaches and burdens of being an entrepreneur so much easier. It’s like wind in your sails.”
Marquis shared additional advice. She responded, “Put great people around you and take great care of your team. No one can do it alone. Your team will fight hard when they believe in the mission and they believe in you. Make sure you take care of them and reward them, and show how much they are appreciated. You are on an intense journey, and you are on that journey together.”
It was very apparent that Marquis has created a culture in which her employees feel a sense of ownership in what they do, and they are as dedicated to the success of the business as she is.
Sacco asked Marquis about the mentors she has had during her career journey. She said there have been many mentors, and she has always surrounded herself with great people and nurtured a support network. She commented, “You want to have people who you can talk to, including other CEOs, who face similar issues.”
Sacco asked Marquis if there was one final message she would like to leave the attendees of Startup Fest. She responded, “Never give up! When you put one foot in front of the other and you do the right things and work hard, it does pay off.” This is great advice for all of us.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.