Elior North America CEO on Harnessing Imperfections

JWU Charlotte Distinguished Visiting Professor (DVP) Brian Poplin, president and CEO of Elior North America.

When you really want to know what is going on in a restaurant, “check the kitchen,” notes JWU Charlotte Distinguished Visiting Professor (DVP) Brian Poplin, president and CEO of Elior North America, a global food service management company.

During one such routine check, Poplin joined three other executives and noticed how nervous a manager was when she greeted them. They quickly saw why. “We walked in and saw a pile of pots and pans, the sink wasn’t working properly, they were understaffed. So do you know what we did? Tucked in our ties and started washing dishes.”

The lesson here? “People will remember not only how you treat them, but also how much you care. What will make you unique is how you treat people.”

"What will make you unique is how you treat people."

Build Your Personal Resilience
As a teenager, Poplin’s path to success wasn’t guaranteed, so he joined the Air Force in 1990 to get more grounded. “You have a tremendous opportunity to figure out who you are and it starts here.”

He also shared why he’s inspired by JWU students: “Every time there is an event here where students are working, there are introductions, you discuss your program of study, when you graduate and what you are going to do. I promise you, your path will change. How you adapt is what builds your personal resilience.”

Hospitality student Mia Williams ’20 appreciated Poplin’s level-headed approach to high-pressure situations: “One thing that resonated with me was ‘When you feel at fault for a situation, you have to remember to assume responsibility for things, but understand that not everything is your fault.’ It’s definitely a rule to live by, because one person can’t control everything that happens to them. You just have to understand your role in a situation, and let things play out how they were intended to.”

Be Willing to Take a Chance
Poplin shared a major turning point in his career. A colleague was asked to take six months to turn a company around — and declined the offer.

Then, Poplin was asked. He and his wife sold their home, she moved in with her in-laws, and Poplin moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he says it was miserably cold. But he got the job done and was eventually promoted. His co-worker to this day has the same position.

“Be thoughtful, be kind, but always be fearless. You have to be willing to take a chance and say yes.”


Hospitality Chair Sunil Atreya, DVP Scholarship Recipient Jaeshauna Bell, and Poplin.