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Jameel BurkettJameel Burkett is the President and CEO of Burkett Restaurant Equipment, a market leader in the food service equipment industry. He’s been awarded the Business Excellence Award from the Entrepreneurial & Business Excellence Hall of Fame, the Champion for Young Leaders Award by the Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association (FEDA), and the Management Excellence Award by the Foodservice Equipment Reports magazine. He was also named a Top Achiever by the Foodservice Equipment and Supplies magazine. Jameel holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA from The University of Toledo.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Jameel Burkett talks about how his father created Burkett Restaurant Equipment
  • Jameel discusses the digital and sales skills he developed before joining the company
  • The challenges of adapting to a post-pandemic restaurant equipment industry
  • Jameel opens up about his biggest mistakes when taking over the company and the lessons he learned along the way
  • Mentors who helped Jameel become the leader he is today

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Jameel Burkett about growing Burkett Restaurant Equipment. As the President and CEO, Jameel reveals the successes and hurdles that helped him scale his company from a small, regional equipment supplier to one of the top restaurant equipment and supply distributors in the nation.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show. Powered by Rise25 Media. We featured top founders, executives, and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen  0:21

Chad Franzen here, co-host for this show where we feature top restauranteurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to SpotOn.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25Media.com or email us at [email protected] As the president and Chief Executive Officer of Burkett Restaurant Equipment, Jameel Burkett is recognized for the vision, insight, purpose and drive with which he has led the company to his current position as a market leader in the food service equipment industry. He joined the company in 2002 and became president in 2011. In 2012, he was awarded the Business Excellence Award from the Entrepreneurial and Business Excellence Hall of Fame in 2013. He was named Top Achiever by FE&S Magazine in 2019. Jameel was a recipient of the Management Excellence Award by a Food Service Equipment Reports Magazine, and in 2021, he received the Champion for Young Leaders Award by the Food Service Equipment Distributors Association. Jameel thanks for joining me today. How are you?

Jameel Burkett  1:52

I’m doing well. Chad. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Chad Franzen  1:55

Hey, so tell me a little bit about kind of the history of Burkett Restaurant Equipment. How did it get started? As far as you know, and how long has it been in business?

Jameel Burkett  2:03

Yeah, thanks. So my father started the company in 1977. He was about two years out of high school and was always an innovator. He always at a young age was a big innovator entrepreneur and saw all kinds of salido. The Toledo Ohio market, which is where we’re from was noted as one of the highest number of restaurants per capita in the United States. So he saw that opportunity, and then looked at the competitors that we had in the region and found that there was a market for reconditioned or used restaurant equipment. So that’s kind of how we got started. I mean, he started the business in 1977, with a primary focus of providing good quality used restaurant equipment to the northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan market. And that that that business model really worked really well for a number of years for us. I mean, over the next 20 years. I mean, we saw the business grow, I mean, to not just use the equipment, but new equipment, and whatnot. In 2002, I joined the company with him. And that was upon graduating from the University of Toledo. And yeah, we’re here today.

Chad Franzen  2:59

So you so he started out in Toledo, Ohio, how did it kind of grow in terms of your your customer base that he did? He started out just servicing people in Toledo or wasn’t a bigger market than that?

Jameel Burkett  3:12

Yeah. So before, before I joined the company in 2002, is really very focused on the regional business. But when I joined the company, the internet was just starting to take off, right? I mean, 2002 was the beginning of the “.com” era or whatnot. So I joined the company, we had this big 175,000 square foot warehouse full of equipment. And I’m like, man, what are we gonna do with all this over here? This is dollar signs. So there was a thing called eBay that was first coming about back then. So we’re like, hey, let’s do some things on eBay. When we did that, and before we knew it, the volume on eBay was doing more than what we were doing locally. And we were like, Okay, there’s an opportunity here. So then we grew, and we launched our website in 2005. And at that point, we kind of really became we created a national presence for the business on a national level, I think doing those is that by doing those things, it allowed us to build relationships, and friendships and clients all across the country, and whatnot. And that’s kind of how we really grew from a local presence to a national presence.

Chad Franzen  4:11

So you guys have all kinds of, you know, items that a restaurant could possibly need. What are some of the most popular

Jameel Burkett  4:19

Yeah, so we’re a really a full service restaurant equipment and supply distributors. So we do everything from refrigerators, freezers, mixers, cooking equipment. smallwares, like the storage containers, tables and sinks smallwares for smallwares, tabletops dishes, plates, and furniture. Pretty much if you walk into any restaurant, everything you see at a restaurant, except for the food and the menus, and the computers can come from us.

Chad Franzen  4:45

Okay, is there like a is there like an item that you guys have that maybe you think is underrated, like you know, obviously all the things you listed probably our go to items. Is there anything that’s that’s underrated, like oh, you know a restaurant would really benefit from this, but it’s just not popular people don’t think of it.

Jameel Burkett  5:06

Um, that’s a great question. There’s really nothing that comes to mind. I mean, I think the technology is probably the biggest thing that is underrated. When you look at equipment, equipment, equipment, right, a refrigerator’s a refrigerator, a freezer’s a freezer. But as the world evolves, and whatnot, this this Internet of Things, technology that’s kind of brought into the restaurant equipment, is still really at its infancy stages. And I think that that’s a component that as people continue to face challenges with finding staff at the restaurant, we got to find ways to automate and whatnot. So things like technology inside the equipment is going to help automate manual routine processes, like checking temperatures, or maintenance and whatnot. So I think that’s, that’s probably the part that I would say, is the biggest upside potential to it.

Chad Franzen  5:50

You said you started in 2002, after graduating from college, I’m sure that you were quite familiar given them as a family owned business. I’m sure you are quite familiar with the business basically, for your entire life.

Jameel Burkett  6:01

You know, I was, but believe it or not, I never worked in the family business. Prior to that, I was always the guy who wanted to do my own thing. So I was a sales rep. For a number of years at different companies, I did an internship at a fortune 100 company, and realized I really wasn’t looking for, for corporate. So my father was like, well, he can work with us over here. And you know, be as smart, 22 year old guy, I’m like, I didn’t go to college to come work at the family business. He’s like, No, seriously, come give it a try. And I did that. And it was the best decision I would have ever made. I mean, it’s been extremely rewarding and, and whatnot.

Chad Franzen  6:35

What? What is your previous experience outside of the business? How did that help you? Or what did you learn from that? If there are things you can think of off the top of your head? I

Jameel Burkett  6:44

think it’s the leadership and the mentorship from having other managers who’s not family. You know, I think that when I look at people that I meet, know that join family businesses right off the bat, you know, they never really get a chance to develop, because no matter what I mean, when you’re at a family business, it’s like, oh, you’re the boss’s son, right, so you’re gonna get away with things more than you really should. So for me, I think that having that 10 years of experience or so five to 10 years of experience, I should say, working outside of the business, I really learned some really good business practices, some good behavior, some really strong accountability, I had some amazing leaders, I’ve been really fortunate my whole life, to have amazing people around me. And I think that really gave me the platform to be able to look at the business from a different lens, I got to see things I liked and things I didn’t like, as well, right. There’s things you love at companies, and there’s things you’re like, Man, if I, if this was my company, I would do things differently. And I think that gave me a chance here to apply the things I loved, and be able to do the things differently that I thought could be done differently.

Chad Franzen  7:39

So you started in 2002, and you became president in 2011. So it took nine years for you to get promoted. So obviously, you weren’t just appointed president, right? When you joined, you know, as the boss’s son, what kinds of things did you do prior to kind of, you know, in your journey toward becoming President?

Jameel Burkett  7:54

It’s a great question. So when when my father hired me, he hired me to be his vice president of operations. And I’m this 22 year old guy or kid that just graduated from college and vice president operations. And I’m like, after like six months, I was like, This isn’t working. He’s like, what’s wrong, I was like, no one’s gonna listen to me, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m 22 years old. You know what, I’m gonna start over again, I’m gonna start from from the very, very ground level. So I kind of really resigned from my job as vice president operations, and I jumped in the warehouse. And I started to work in the warehouse as just shipping, receiving delivery, and then started to kind of implement some my own thoughts and ideas on the warehousing things and what I could do. And then after that, I kind of started to dabble in other areas of the business, I got into our service department a little bit and learn a little bit about reconditioning equipment and how that works. And then jumped into accounting and marketing, sales. Sales is always my babies, I did sales and something else, because I’m naturally just a salesperson by nature. So I think I just doing that over time. I mean, around 2000, I seen 10, 9, 10, 11 is when I started to get more into the office. And then and then in 2011, I kind of took over as the president,

Chad Franzen  9:02

how have your sales skills and sales, your sales background benefited the company?

Jameel Burkett  9:08

Oh, my God, humongous, humongous. You know, I’ve always been told, like I’m, I’m a good salesperson. I’m a good talker. But I think that there’s a difference between being a good talker and being a good salesperson. And, you know, I was fortunate when I worked at Gateway computers. When I was in college, I had a remarkable sales manager that really, really trained me. He trained the whole company, like how to be top of the line salespeople and really sell with empathy, so with with care, you know, leverage relationships that kind of help you grow your business referral network. So I think having those skills has helped a lot. And then on top of that, I really believe that leadership to be a good leader. It’s about there’s a little bit of sales that goes into leadership, right? I mean, it’s about having good empathy and how to talk to people and how to work with people. So I think having a strong sales background I think has helped me be in a leadership role and really, drive change and influence people.

Chad Franzen  10:00

As I mentioned in your introduction, you’ve won several awards. What’s, what’s been the key to that kind of success on that recognition?

Jameel Burkett  10:09

You know, we have great people here, honestly, like I don’t, I don’t do a whole lot. I mean, I have great people around me. And you know, they really rock it around here and have done an amazing job getting the company on the maps, and whatnot. And I think that most of the success has to go to the team that we have here at the company. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are.

Chad Franzen  10:27

What has been as president the most challenging thing about running that type of business?

Jameel Burkett  10:32

Yeah, the most challenging thing. This is gonna be weird to say it, but I’m gonna say it’s letting go sometimes. Right? So the fact that took a step back and started at the ground level and work my way up, a lot of these things are my baby. So being able to let go of your baby and and empower someone else to do it. I think it’s tough. Like, I mean, it’s a fine line. Do you cut the cord and just let them go and let someone else handle it day one? Well, that doesn’t really work. Do you stay involved in it? No, because you’ll get a micromanager. So it’s taking me a lot of years learn how to transition change versus cut off change. I kind of use the analogy at work. Now when we when we talk is change isn’t a light switch. It’s a dimmer switch. And so you want to dim the lights on slowly to get to maximum light. But it’s not the flip of a light switch. And I think that over the last several years, I’ve had to learn, and really put a lot of energy into learning how to effectively drive change, especially with me letting go of things that I used to do.

Chad Franzen  11:33

COVID has had a huge impact on the restaurant industry. What about how has it impacted Burkett Restaurant Equipment? The restaurant equipment industry?

Jameel Burkett  11:43

Yeah, I mean, it was definitely it hurt us like everybody else in the beginning. I mean, March, April of 2020 came around, you’re like, oh my god, are we gonna be in business in two months? Like this? Is this is this is horrible, right? I think that during crisis is a time for businesses and people to really look at it as what can I do? How can I do things differently? Right? How can we pivot our business and evolve and do things differently than we ever have before? And I think that it just challenged us, right, it took us out of our comfort zone got us a little bit uncomfortable from where we normally would be. But said, Okay, we have two choices, we can either thrive, or we can die and nobody on the team wanted to die. So we’re like, alright, we got to figure this out over here. So you learn how to take new risks, you learn how to try things differently. I mean, the whole idea of this is just how we’ve always done it, because it works went out the window. The other thing that it gave us a chance to do is we had so many areas of the business that we’re like, Man, if I could start all over again, there’s so many things I would do differently. And when you during COVID, like prior to COVID, there’s always the pressures to perform, whether it’s pressures of your bankers or pressures of your shareholders, or your staff, or whatever it is, there’s always that pressure that says, guy we have to perform, we’ve got to deliver. And then when when COVID came, it’s like that pressure all fell off the shoulders, right? It all was gone. It’s like, well, no, I don’t have to because nobody’s performing right now. So let’s take this time to just take a step back and look at every segment of our business. And say if we were starting all over again, how we do it differently. So we really got a chance to rebuild the business from the ground up. Whether that’s inventory, whether that’s layout of our showroom, whether that’s just sales, training, inventory management, web catalog management, marketing. I mean, we essentially dissected the business and rebuilt it from the ground up if as if we got this opportunity to wave a magic wand and start all over again, without starting all over again. And I’ll be I’ll be forever thankful. I mean, it was difficult times. But I think that it’s it’s so far, I mean, it’s been rewarding, because we had that chance to kind of do it the way we want it.

Chad Franzen  13:43

Sure. Is there something that you you know, you’ve been president there for about 10 years. 10 years? Is there something? Is there, something you’re most proud of during that time?

Jameel Burkett  13:55

Um, yeah, that’s a good question. There’s a lot I’m proud of. I mean, this this team over here, this company has done some amazing things. I guess a couple things that come to mind. I mean, but I think in 2018, or 19, I think 18 we introduced our own private line of refrigeration and cooking equipment. So I think that was that was a cool accomplishment, right, your own private brand is called Seagate Commercial Products. We carry the top 50 best sellers in the refrigeration and cooking category. And I think that that was that was cool. That was a cool thing, right? That thing that you have your name on? Or your identity it’s made just for you. No one else can sell it. But you I think that was no there was a cool cool moment

Chad Franzen  14:32

here. Very cool. Is there has there been any kind of mistakes that have been made along the way but ended up being big learning moments?

Jameel Burkett  14:41

Oh, God, mistakes God, we make mistakes every day. And one of our core values is pursue growth and learning and we say that because we’re like, look, you’re there’s two things are gonna happen. You’re either gonna win or you’re on learn. And every time you make a mistake, it’s a learning learning opportunity. Yeah, where do I start? You know, I think the biggest mistake I probably made I think this goes back to learning how to let Go is as the company grew and my role evolved, I started to listen a lot to other people about how a president should be or how a CEO should be, and the things you should do. And we really got away from being who we are at our core, and we really lost our culture. And I think when you look at it, you kind of look at like, your growth years, your dark years, your recovery years, I mean, everybody has ups and flows in the business cycle. And you look back, and I’m like, man, like the probably the biggest mistake I made is, I don’t think listening to people, because listen, you have to listen to people, right. But I think letting people influence you. Beyond your natural, I don’t get your comfort zone. But I don’t know how to put it in the right word. Like, you’re passionate about your culture. Right. And I think it’s influenced your culture, I think that’s the way I want to explain it, is really allowing outside influence to come in and make an influence to the culture and essentially change the culture from what it was. And I think that it was all with the right intentions. But I believe that every business has its own culture, right. And there’s a uniqueness to the culture. And when different people join different companies, yes, you have a chance to kind of influence some culture. But that founding principles that my father built the business on, that’s why we’re successful. That’s why we do great things. And those principles can never die, you can evolve, you can grow, you can enhance, but those core core founding principles, you know, having high empathy, your people first taking care of you, I mean, really, it’s all about the people, if you take care of your people, they take care of you. That’s that’s really good. And so I think that’s probably been the the biggest mistake. And it took a long time to recover out of I really did. I mean, it took a long time to realize why I got there. And then how to get out of it. And I think those that there’s, it’s the reason why we got out of it is because also the people that started to join the company in the later years. And they’re like, Man, I knew a long time ago, I knew the business a long time ago, and I remember does, I’m like, You’re right, I remember that dot dot. And just you know, it just took a couple of people that were like, Hey, I get it. And then to be able to drive that change again. And it’s, it’s been real rewarding. And I look at where we are right now, compared to where we were three or four years ago, compared to what were 20 years ago. It’s been a remarkable journey.

Chad Franzen  17:23

Given the those principles and how you kind of rediscovered them along the way. How would you describe the culture? They’re

Jameel Burkett  17:31

over here? So our colors are red. So that that tells you right, it screams passion, right? I think our people are incredibly passionate, very, very driven, very family oriented, very people oriented. You asked, we have over 70 people here now and you ask each one why you’re here, they’ll almost all give you the same answer. And it’ll be two people. Right? I mean, so we’ve created an environment where people like to work together. It’s a fun environment. It’s a it’s a good cultural environment. It’s a customer first employee first come mindset, we really don’t believe and we believe in numbers, of course, but we really believe if you take care of your people, and you take care of your customers, the numbers will work themselves out. And I think that people have seen that we’re the type of company that doesn’t live and die by the dollar. We live and die by doing the right thing and believe the dollar will follow us. Again, I like analogies and the analogies from the movie Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. That’s kind of the analogy that we use over here now, just if you build it, they will come just roll with it.

Chad Franzen  18:30

Who are some of the your mentors and maybe some advice that you’ve gotten from them?

Jameel Burkett  18:36

Yeah, I mean, I have a couple I mean, guy, I mean, I had some a lot of great people around me, I mean, I go back to my sales manager that I had back in my college days. I mean, and a lot of the advice was around how to take care of your customers and how to be a good salesperson, not a used car salesperson. I have another mentor of mine, his name is Hussein Chaussure. And he’s the former CEO of gem industrial, which is a construction company out of fleet Ohio. And I mean him and I mean spend a lot of time together I’m he’s a person that can bounce ideas off of, or problems or challenges off of and what I love about my mentors is they never tell me what to do. Right? They just kind of point me in the right direction by asking questions. And then at the end, you’re like, Oh, well, that works. But I really do believe and encourages to everybody. I mean, whether you’re in college or you’re a restaurant tour, or you’re a chef or whoever it is, everybody needs a mentor in life and that mentor can’t be somebody at work. I don’t believe it can be so it should be somebody at work or someone in your family. It’s that person you can lean on that Guney be just give it straight. Right. And I think that I’ve been I’ve been very blessed with those.

Chad Franzen  19:39

Okay, I really appreciate your time today Jameel. Where can people find out more information about Burkett Restaurant Equipment?

Jameel Burkett  19:48

Yeah, I mean, you can visit us on our website at www.burkett.com B as in boy, u r k e t t.com. We’re also on all the social media platforms Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all across the board.

Outro  20:00

Okay, great. Sounds good. Hey, I appreciate your time today, Gmail. Thanks so much. My pleasure. Thank you. So hello, everybody. Thanks for listening to the top business leaders show. Powered by Rise25. Visit rise25.com to check out more episodes of the show and to learn more about how you can start your own podcast.