When Damola Adamolekun worked at the legendary investor John Paulson’s hedge fund Paulson and Company, the firm learned that P.F. Chang’s was up for sale. Adamolekun thought it would be a great investment and pitched it to Paulson, who agreed and, in 2019, bought the chain specializing in Asian fusion cuisine.
And everybody ate happily ever after. End of story, right?
Adamolekun grew up playing sports, including football at Brown, and was trained on the notion that teammates do whatever it takes to help their team win. So when Paulson and Company took on the task of making a good company even better, Adamolekun went all in. While a stopgap CEO was hired to run Chang’s daily operations, Adamolekun handled the strategic side, including remodeling the restaurants, building up the technology platforms, and expanding the delivery operation.
But less than a year after buying P.F. Chang’s, Covid hit, and Paulson’s best-laid plans went sideways. The new CEO left for precautionary health reasons, and suddenly Adamolekun found himself the de facto leader of a restaurant business in the middle of a pandemic, fighting for its existence.
“It was my deal. So I was responsible for it at the hedge fund, right?” he says.
Once again, Adamolekun felt he was back in the huddle. He called for a new CEO search and told Paulson he wanted to lead it. “Sometimes the moment strikes, and you are in the trenches,” says Adamolekun. “It was mass chaos in the restaurant industry and the worst time for a CEO search. That’s when Paulson said, ‘Look, you’re the chief strategy officer. It’s your deal. Your investment. You be the CEO.'”
And that is how Adamolekun became the leader of 20,000 staff members in 300 locations around the world. And it at least partially explains why he was named in Nation’s Restaurant News‘ 2022 Power List among the most innovative and inspiring leaders in the restaurant industry.
In this podcast, Adamolekun shares a number of his lead-from-the-front lessons, including:
• Raising the performance bar by setting higher expectations.
• Making everyone on your team feel important about their contributions.
• The #1 confidence builder you can apply with your team.
“People want to be great. They want to be winners, right?” says Adamolekun. “But you start getting small wins, and believing, and it’s amazing how the morale in an organization can transform.”
Even — and especially — in times of chaos.