You Win with People - An IFMA Silver Plate Story

May 21 / Julie Jones

The IFMA Silver Plate award, the Oscars of the foodservice world, is given out yearly across eight segments recognizing outstanding executive operations leaders. Leaders are nominated and a juried panel selects a winner in each category.

I was honored to provide Dave Reeves’ introduction as he accepted the 2024 Healthcare Foodservice Silver Plate. I’m sharing my introduction since it provides the background for Dave’s story.  

Julie:  IFMA Silver Plate Introduction:

Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State football coach, once said, "You win with people." Dave believes in and invests in people and has cultivated a strong coaching tree, building the capability and capacity of his teams for purpose.

At Edward Elmhurst Health, Dave spearheaded the design of kitchens and development of a customer focused food program that just happened to be surrounded by a new hospital. His work at St Jude, whose operating model is different from traditional healthcare included establishing a master plan framework for a custom retail program to support significant growth. At Lee Health, Dave and his team are in the process of redesigning the food service programs for one of the nation's largest public health systems.

Even though Dave took promotions to other organizations, each previous organization selected an internal candidate to fill his role — a sign that he prepared these leaders well.

Dave understands that true leadership is not about accolades but about making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. This belief was tested with the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, in Fort Myers. Dave’s team continued to serve patients, staff, the injured who overwhelmed emergency departments, and first responders despite very challenging circumstances.

Imagine leading a team providing essential services while they cope with personal losses such as damaged homes, the hardships of family and friends, or even the loss of a family member. True leaders rise to the top and lead with love. Dave’s humanity and compassion set him apart.

Dave has been a hardworking volunteer leader for many organizations including IFMA, and Association for Healthcare Foodservice, where we met many years ago. He works with others to gain consensus and achieve outcomes. And through it all, he maintains a great sense of humor.

Woody also said, "You can never pay back, but you can always pay it forward.”
Dave, thank you for paying it forward in our industry.

I first met Dave in the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. Later, we both served as Presidents in back-to-back years, so we became collaborative partners for many years.

The photo I’m sharing includes AHF members supporting Dave at the awards ceremony. As you can see, You Win with People, has resonated for those he has volunteered with as well!

Recently, I spent some time with Dave to learn more of his story and gain his insights.

Julie: You are incredibly humble person, what crossed your mind when you heard you won this prestigious award?

Dave: I’ve been fortunate to lead incredible teams in organizations who have wholly supported our food programs. This award is more than me, as a person, but a reflection of the talent on the teams I’ve had the privilege to work with.

Julie: What does “You win with people mean for you”?
Dave: The core of everything we do is surrounded by the people – those we work with and the people we serve. Our job is to find out how to bring out the best in team members and their work, so that they can serve others best.

Julie: What is a core tenet in your leadership philosophy?
Dave: Giving the team the resources, space, and support to learn. The very nature of learning means that you might make mistakes. Learning means progress is better than perfection – and it can take some patience to watch.

I’ve tried to be there to support and guide those on my team as they take on new learning. I’ve found that helping others grow, learn, and makes all of us better and extends our team's performance. 
I consider this a core piece of my leadership, and even team members have identified it as one of my most valuable assets. This description of my leadership style is one that I am most proud of.

Julie: Let’s talk about your leadership evolution over the course of your career.

Dave:  In my early leadership positions, I followed my leaders and their direction. I struggled when my boss told me that we manage performance through the discipline process. The environment became one of fear instead of engagement, and it didn't seem like this was a sustainable strategy.

I got a new boss who had a different, more employee-centered approach and focused on the role of the leader in helping employees become successful. This was transformative for me to see employee development from a different perspective. And find something more authentic to who I am.

I believe that most employees come to work wanting to do a good job. I think many issues are a function of the lack of clarity around expectations. I often ask the question, how clear have we been with expectations? Clarifying expectations is always a work in progress.

Julie: I'm especially interested in the impact of both earning trust and giving trust to others. I would like to build on the discussion of an employee centered approach and the creation of trust. Viewing your different approaches for employee performance and development over the course of time, what stands out?

Dave: Early in my career, I looked at the management hierarchy and thought that people would respect my authority because I was a leader. I learned you must give them a reason to respect and trust you. Likewise, I had to learn that trust goes both ways. My leader, who supported an employee-centered approach, challenged me to think differently. His advice was to give trust to people and start off with a clean slate. Let them prove you wrong first before you make assumptions. Sometimes, I have been proven wrong, but that is the exception.

When you trust others, they will likely give it back to you in return.

Julie: When has trust made a difference?

Dave: When we were getting ready to open the new hospital at Elmhurst, our team had done all the planning and training for staff. And then it came time for our day one opening. I knew I had to step back and let the team manage their areas without micromanaging from above. I had to remind myself they've got this even when my tendency was to hold on tighter. I trusted the leaders and the team, and it made a difference. We were successful, and our transition was pretty uneventful.

Julie: As a native Chicagoan, you were used to snow but not hurricanes. How did you and your team come together to meet the essential needs for the people of Lee County, Florida during and after Hurricane Ian in September of 2022?

Dave: I was still relatively new to Florida and hurricanes. I relied on our team to help me understand what must be done to adequately prepare. Our team has handled many different hurricane scenarios before. Initially, the epicenter of Hurricane Ian was expected north of Fort Myers. Then, the forecast changed, and based on the reports, Hurricane Ian would become more than anyone on the team had dealt with previously.

Then, I had to take the lead, given the dire straits. We were told to expect to operate at diminished capacity for a month or two. We set up our own food service command center to make decisions as a team.

Our meals grew from 13,000 to almost 40,000 meals per day despite operating on emergency power and without water for a short time. We might feed 30% - 40% of the workforce in a typical day. But all of a sudden, we found ourselves feeding 100% of the employees, patients, guests, and emergency responders around the clock. We supported the community and coordinated efforts with relief agencies to bring food trucks from Miami to our campuses. Each truck had the potential to serve 2,000 meals, and this allowed us to focus on our core business. 

We maintained this pace for at least three weeks after the hurricane and finally settled back into more normal meal volumes. Our team might be essential employees, but first and foremost, we are people with families to care for and co-workers to support. During the devastating storm, being away from our loved ones was incredibly difficult. Yet, every member of our Lee Health team made it their top priority to care for our patients and community.

Our foodservice management team went above and beyond to support staff members facing immense personal loss—whether it was losing their homes, cars flooding, or the heart-wrenching news of missing family members. Despite these personal tragedies, our team members showed remarkable selflessness. They continued to deliver trays, cook, and serve food to staff, demonstrating unwavering dedication. Every member of the Lee Health team is a hero, and I couldn't be prouder of their incredible strength and commitment!

Julie: I have also been impressed by your willingness to reach out broadly for support. Was it is always that way for you?

Dave: Absolutely not. I'm a natural introvert -- I have a difficult time walking up and striking up a conversation with someone I don't know. I initially struggled with networking. But, when I started talking with people, I learned so much and built relationships with others who could support our team.

The benefit I've gained from networking is recognizing that I'm not the expert in everything, but I can reach out and find someone who is. Friendship and commonality are priceless. My advice: For people who think they don't have the time for networking, make the time. It will pay off. It's not that hard or as hard as I made it out to be.

Julie: Woody's other quote: "You can never pay back, but you can always pay it forward." What have you gained by giving to others?

Dave: Most people think about what it costs them in terms of time. I flip that analogy into what I gained. It's been more about the satisfaction I have gotten from seeing people grow and develop, and the satisfaction of collaborating with others to improve. At the same time, providing others the opportunity to succeed has strengthened the outcomes for the organization as our team skills' have grown. These types of investments pay it forward for others.

Julie: What are you most proud of in your Silver Plate journey?

Dave: I'm very proud of the new campus we built in Chicago. There was tremendous learning, incredible design, and then we were able to execute. It was so rewarding.

The opportunity to see people grow and develop to take on larger roles has taught me the value of mentorship and advocacy.

The Silver Plate is about the cumulative efforts of each team  -- I'm accepting this award on behalf of each of these teams and their accomplishments.

Congratulations, Dave, on this very well-deserved honor.