An interview with Kenny Hemmer, director of financial operations for Emory University, Food Service Administration.
For a complete list of FE&S' Future Foodservice Leaders see The Future Is Now.
Name: Kenny Hemmer
Company: Emory University, Food Service Administration
Title: Director of Financial Operations
Industry involvement: NACUFS – Facilitator of the Contract Administrator Symposium and Planning Institute, Secretary/Treasurer of the Southern Region
Years in foodservice: 19
Educational background: BS in Psychology from Northwestern State University of Louisiana and MBA from the University of Georgia
What's the most important lesson you have learned?
I've learned in some situations there are several right ways to solve a problem. The key is finding the best right way for that situation at that time. I always keep in mind that at some point I may have to switch to a different right way as circumstances change.
What's the best career advice you have been given?
Do you want to be right or do you want to succeed?
What makes you want to stay in the industry?
I enjoy that every day can present new and unique challenges, even within an environment with somewhat set parameters. Universities at the highest levels mostly exist within traditions. But students, the primary customer and focus, have needs that change often and rapidly. In solving the equation that is university dining you have to be in the "change" business. You have to know what variables have and should change, and what can or cannot. And you have to do all of this on the run while working with other decision-makers.
What attracted you to the industry?
I started while in college and enjoyed the customer service aspect of the industry. I enjoyed what was going on behind the scenes to achieve the desired level of customer service. I couldn't help but think that I could do things better behind the scenes. Better ways of doing things that would lead to a better experience for the customer and the food service employee.
What has been your proudest accomplishment?
I am most proud of my time as Interim Director at Emory University. To be given the opportunity to oversee the dining operations of a prestigious university is something I never took lightly. I was never content to just maintain Emory Dining. I was always focused on improving Emory Dining. My goal was to hand it over to the new director better than it was when I got. I am confident that I have done what I set out to do.
Describe the biggest challenge you have overcome.
In a university setting your primary customer is the student. At 18 to 21 years of age they don't truly know what they want. They don't yet know what is best for them. The university is focused on meeting their needs and that university desire is often in conflict with what is best for them. For example, students want late night and oftentimes the opportunity to eat 24 hours a day. It is not in the best interest of the student to eat at 3 o'clock in the morning. No health professional will tell you that it is a good time to eat. The overall health and safety of a student being out at 3:00 a.m. should outweigh the student's desire to eat at 3:00 a.m. While this is somewhat of an extreme example it is a real challenge we are faced with. There are several daily challenges associated with meeting customer satisfaction and doing what is right for the customer.
What excites you most about the foodservice industry?
Within a university setting it has to be the students. They bring a unique perspective to food service that you can't get in any other environment. The perception is that we are forced to feed them and they are forced to eat our food. That perception makes operating a food service program much more challenging and rewarding when done right.
If you could improve one thing about the industry, what would it be?
Getting the industry to differentiate between what is truly healthy eating and what is a marketing strategy. University dining is always and will always be compared to the general restaurant world. What to eat and when to eat should not be marketed as healthy unless it truly is. The factors regarding sustainable foods should be discussed properly and not only in the context of getting another product sold.