Mario Batali: The CEO in Orange Crocs

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 11:08 AM EDT

I love cooking, so I know a fair amount about Croc-wearing superstar chef Mario Batali. But here is something I didn't know until reading an interview with him in Harvard Business Review.

He has the makings of a great CEO.

As the chief executive of 14 high profile restaurants in the United States and Spain, Batali has figured out that the stereotypical brilliant-but-belligerent chef is not an effective model for leadership in the modern food service industry.

Describing his organizational business model, it's all about team. Creating the right team. Helping it overcome problems. Promoting from within.

"All of the executive chefs and most of the general managers and wine directors have worked with me directly. They know where I'm going. They know the shorthand we use in describing how things need to change. I go into most of the New York restaurants almost every day, and we talk about things as they're evolving. My objective as a manager, of course, is to remove the obstacles that prohibit greatness of the people that I've hired. So I ask, what is the hardest thing about today? And I say, well, why don't we get somebody else to do that, or let's remove it, or let's streamline it, let's make it easier. Then they can enjoy that zenny tea service effect of working through something they know how to do."
Asked by author Katherine Bell what he looks for when hiring an executive chef, Batali answers, "I don't hire them. I bring them up from my team. The highest level we'll hire from outside is a line cook."

This is an impressive dose of self awareness from a person who has likely spent most of his life being told how talented he is, always being The Man. To be able to put that ego aside and put your faith in other smart people to help you succeed is rather remarkable, and something all managers can learn from.

(Image of Bistro Mario Batali Edition Croc)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.