For more than two decades, Toni Bianco has been immersed in the food industry, and in that time, he’s worked with giants like Papa John’s. Now, as the senior vice president of global operations for Long John Silver’s (LJS), he sees opportunities for the company to grow in both domestic and foreign markets. As the world becomes more health- and digital-conscious, Bianco sets LJS’s sails for success in becoming America’s favorite seafood restaurant.
What makes you an effective leader?
Vision and team building are critical to results and success. It’s important to approach business like an entrepreneur and make decisions to benefit the company as a whole. As a member of the executive team, I realize that the decisions I make affect every department—from marketing to culinary innovation, and especially our franchise community—so I’m careful and considerate.
What is your leadership style?
I spend a good deal of time picking the right team members. When it comes to our team executing, I’m pleased with the results. We set strategic goals, and then I give them the space and resources they need. I do my best to remove roadblocks and red tape so they can focus on the task at hand.
You’ve been at LJS for about a year now. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud that we’ve reached seventeen consecutive periods of positive comparable store sales, something we haven’t done since we began operating in 1969. This speaks to our commitment to listening to our customers and adjusting as needed. We’ve experienced the best Lent sales in five years and have renewed the focus of the core business value: to become America’s favorite seafood restaurant. We’ve also acquired more than seventy restaurants, which are now corporate-owned and leading the system in comp sales and transactions. This is all part of our rebranding strategy, to focus on our core gold-standard products. We’re introducing new uniforms, new menu items, and refreshing our website and logo, all while focusing on our current and loyal customers. Our efforts are paying dividends with our current top-ten ranking among quick service restaurants for overall guest satisfaction.
“I can teach our business, but I cannot teach the culture, which is an essential part of this job.”
How do you effectively build a team? What kind of person do you look for?
When building a team, I look for more than experience; I look for a fit. My team members not only work well together, but they also inspire each other to achieve. I can teach our business, but I cannot teach the culture, which is an essential part of this job.
Twenty-six years of food experience is a pretty staggering number. What kinds of trends do you see affecting your position?
There’s enormous opportunity in the seafood industry. Pizza, burgers, and sandwiches have all been done, but seafood is a growing sector. It’s healthy and delicious, and there’s a lot of room for our brand to grow, both in the United States and overseas. For example, while some brands struggle in Singapore, we’ve successfully expanded to twenty-five restaurants and have recently signed new deals in the Middle East.
What has the digital transition been like for you?
I have learned that, in this day and age, you must embrace technology. We’re working in all of our stores to improve our processes. With our focus on training, we’ve reduced paper costs by moving all training to a digital platform.
How has your previous experience prepared you for your current role?
In this industry, you see many brands cycle through the same problems, concerns, or issues. By experiencing something similar to this, I’ve learned to use it as a lesson and not to repeat mistakes of the past.
You have a wide range of responsibilities. How is your management structured and how do you exist in multiple arenas concurrently?
I oversee franchise operations, corporate operations, international development, and training. I’m also the key liaison to our supply chain partner, SpenDifference. I have revamped the teams to bring in strong leaders who are willing to take risks. They think outside the box, and this will help take our brand to the next level. We are on the right track, and I’m anxious to see where we grow from here.
Who do you look up to? Do you have a role model? Have you received any great advice that you can remember getting?
My father, who passed away four years ago, has always been my role model. He never worked for anyone and was always an entrepreneur. His work touched many businesses, and he was always a success. The best advice he ever gave was “Be honest in business” and “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”
How do you relax?
With every job comes stress, but my wife of nineteen years helps keep me on track. She is always honest and up front in any situation, and I admire her. We always have so much fun together, and my family means the world to me. I would not be who I am today without them.