Leadership + People: Episode 41 - Mary Crafts - Part 1 of 2

In this episode Mary Crafts shares her humble start going door to door selling baked goods and the lessons she learned in trusting her team and the training she provided while still abiding by the law of the harvest.

Show Notes

  • The awards proving a career of integrity and excellence [01:16]
  • Food as a means of so much more than nourishment and why she does what she does [03:22]
  • From Avon to a little wagon and then a multimillion dollar company, Mary shares her beginnings [04:32]
  • How doing the simple things you know you should do will prevent bumps along the way [08:00]
  • Learning from her sons about Google docs and SOPs and how that increased their growth exponentially [10:18]
  • Don’t be afraid to change seats on the bus [12:23]
  • Protecting the culture from the top down [14:58]
  • Letting someone go as a teaching opportunity about the law of the harvest [18:22]

Show Audio


  • Collins, James C. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001. Print.
  • Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
Mary Crafts 1

This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: July 3rd, 2018

Show Transcript

[BEGINS] 00:00

Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies.  And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.

JL: Today on the show, we’ve got Mary Crafts Homer.

Mary Crafts “It comes more just actually from life and living and joy and sharing joy and lifting others than actually from food. Food, all these years has been my medium. And I’ve used that to bring people together. To bring them fun. To bring them connectedness. To feed them. To give them adventure.”

00:49 JL: Thanks for making time.

MARY CRAFTS: Oh. My pleasure. I was excited to be here.

00:51 JL: So for people who don’t know what you do, tell us all about it.

MARY CRAFTS: Well I do a lot of things, but for a career, for the last 35 years I’ve been the CEO, and president, owner, and founder and creative person behind Culinary Crafts Catering and Special Events.

01:10 JL: So I see a lot of awards out here.

MARY CRAFTS: Yeah I have couple. [laugh]

01:16 JL: Can you talk about this?

Mary’s Proudest Awards

MARY CRAFTS: Yeah. When I retire and I take those awards home, they’re going to have to start over. It’s… Awards are one of those things that when you start out you don’t go for that. That’s not why you’re in existence. But if you do something long enough and you decide that you are going to be an expert at it, eventually the community, your state and the world actually start to take notice. You know this person’s actually pretty good at this. And you win one and then another and another. And probably the ones that are the most notable up there in that case, are the 16 gold medals that hang there for Best of State. And three statues for Best of All Hospitality. But there’s a lot of awards in there that signify other things. Like in 2005 when I was awarded one of utah’s 30 Women to Watch. I no more thought I was a woman to watch than I was to fly to the moon. I was surprised I got that. But, well somebody thought I was that. And you kind of live then towards that point. Twice I received outstanding business woman of the year from the chamber. And I thought ‘Wow. Really me?’ But back when I first started there weren’t a lot of women in business. And so if you want a women I was a better choice. [laugh] Because there weren’t a lot to choose from. Now it would be much tougher to win that award. Another one of my favorites, is one that I won: Ethics and Business. I love that one because it is what I wanted to focus on really my entire career based on integrity. And to be recognized for that was super fun. And then my all time favorite, at age 60, to receive one of Utah’s 10 Coolest Entrepreneurs. I loved that. I had a photoshoot done with me and my black leather harleys and a chef knife and my cowboy hat. Dang I was cool. [laugh]

03:15 JL: So, I think it’s pretty obvious that you enjoy what you do.

MARY CRAFTS: I do. I do.

03:22 JL: Even just the couple of events we’ve been to, like you’re- it seems like you’re in your element when your are in a crowd.

MARY CRAFTS: I am in my element when I am in a crowd. And that passion that you feel from me comes more from actually just life and living and joy and sharing joy and lifting others than actually from food. Food, all these years has been my medium. And I’ve used that to bring people together. To bring them fun. To bring them connectedness. To feed them. To give them adventure. All sorts of different things I’ve done with food. But it all comes back to something else. That you are giving people joy. That in a year from now they may not remember what they ate. But they are going to remember how they felt. And that’s always in the forefront of my mind.

04:13 JL: Yeah. So for people who hear catering business and they’re thinking of their friends’ mom in a little operation.

MARY CRAFTS: Oh yeah. [Laughs]

04:23 JL: Can you give us a little more vision of the scope here?

A Little Wagon and Her Humble Beginnings

MARY CRAFTS: Well that’s exactly how we started. In our little condo kitchen. Baking breads and cookies and pulling my two little baby boys in a wagon door to door selling breads and cookies and whatever I could. Then I went to doing birthday parties or kids. Sewed my own clown costume and the big rainbow wig. The whole nine yards. Anything that was necessary. I was willing to do anything that was within my realm of integrity. Didn’t matter how humbling it was if I knew I could put food in my children’s mouth. For me that was the bottom motivation for me. You know that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Yeah. I didn’t know how to be a caterer. I graduated in social work. And I had been a social worker. But that for me meant putting my children in daycare if I went back to that field. And I knew I was going to be the chef bread earner. And so what could I do? I sold Avon for a while. I took my kids in a stroller. I taught piano and voice lessons but that didn’t bring in much money. Well maybe I can cater. Who knows. And I did like to cook. And I was a good cook. But not what I do here. Those things were learned from a different kind of school, called the school of hard knocks. And what I realize now that I am at the end of my career; if i can share some of this information some of the insights into business leadership, building teams, being financially stable, with people who are on that, you know, lower end of the spectrum and trying to get to the top. That for me would be my legacy. To reach down and give back all that’s been given me. Now we start from the most humble beginnings. We are 16x Best of State. We were the international caterer of the year. We are the largest catering company in the state of Utah. And certainly the most awarded one. And we have a  reputation. And that reputation certainly focuses on good food, without a doubt. But it also focuses on trust. People know who use us that they trust us to provide what we say. And I tell my team, everyday, my sales team; we are not selling food here. We are selling trust. They can get food anywhere. But it’s trust. Trust that we’re going to show up. Trust that we are going to present fabulous food. Trust that if something does go wrong I’m willing to be accountable for it and stand up to the plate and make it right. That’s what I’m selling. So that driving idea of being trustworthy, of having integrity, permeates this company. And I say to my staff please don’t steal from me. Don’t sell out your integrity for what I would gladly just give you, if i was asked. And I’ve had theses groups. I mean we have about 200 staff. We have 55 full time plus 200 part time in the best homes in the state. And I never think twice, are they in there stealing from somebody? Should I have cameras? They have my back because I have theirs.

07:37 JL: Yeah. I will say this is like the ultimate startup company. From a literal red wagon.

MARY CRAFTS: I had 150 bucks. That was it. That is all I had to start this company.

07:48 JL: Yeah. From a red wagon to a multi million dollar company with all these stats. That’s a pretty good start up.

MARY CRAFTS: It’s been fun. It’s been an adventure.

07:56 JL: Well tell me this. I’m sure you’ve learned a million lessons. What is something you would’ve, or you wish you could go back and tell an earlier version of yourself?

Advice to Her Earlier Self

MARY CRAFTS: Ahhh. Okay. Think just a little more before you leap. [laugh] I tend to be a person of intuition. I go on my gut feeling a lot. And over the course of the years most of the times that’s played pretty well for me. But not always. And I could have avoided that by simply doing some of the things that I know are right. When somebody comes in the front door and they have a resume for me. And I fall in love with them. Oh they would be so perfect here. So what, I don’t call the references on the resume to find out. I just hire them on. And then come to find out, nope I really should have called. And they were a better actor than I thought they were. So there are somethings that you do in business that really need to be done. That’s a piece I would go back and do. I tried to carry too much of this on my own shoulders without trusting my team enough, in the early years. I felt I had to do all the take lists, cooking, serve every single event, clean up, design every single menu. Really it was so overwhelming. I learned this lesson during the Olympics. 2002 we set up 17 events a day. And I had it in my brain that I was going to go to one, get that set up and ready and then I would go to another one and the next one and the next one. And I had them all timed out to make sure I was going to get to everyone and make sure they had the Mary touch. On the first day by the time I got to number 3 it was over. [laughs] And I said ‘What happened here, What did you do without me?’ ‘We served it, duh’. And I’m like “without me?” Huh. It was a huge wake up call that if I had trained them and trusted them they would have been fine. In fact they were fine. And it allowed me to begin to grow this company in a different, you know mega sorta of fashion.

10:18 JL: Sytem way instead of personality

Mega Growth with a lot of SOPs

MARY CRAFTS: And that’s the piece that my two sons brought to the company. I sold 49% of this to them, well now, nearly 5 years ago. In august they get the last 51. And the piece they bought was that. Everything does not have to be held in Mary’s head. There are things called Google Docs, Excel Spreadsheet, Profit and loss statements. All these things that have just been in my head. But by putting things in place and by writing an SOP for every single procedure here and putting that in a document, that I had not realized the value of that. I wished I had early on. I could have been doing this all along. Now they’ve taken these five years and done that. It’s amazing. Somebody asked well how do we take care of the coffee maker. There’s an SOP for that. How do we handle the call that comes in to the front desk. There’s an SOP on that. How long do we have to turn around a proposal. There’s an SOP on that. Crazy stuff like that. Huh? And I didn’t have to hold it on my brain. And what that meant was I got to take a few trips now and then. I didn’t have to be here 24/7. So it was great. I wished I had known that earlier on.  

11:37 JL: Yeah. It is interesting how I think it’s not as intuitive to go back and simplify and write it all down and yet you see those business that are enormous because they can be duplicated. Because they don’t need superman…


11:57 JL: Or superwoman to come do it all.

MARY CRAFTS: Exactly, yeah. And that was a huge wake up call. I would advise anyone no matter how small their business to begin writing down their process. Because eventually there’s going to be two of you. And eventually there’s going to be eight. And then 100. And then 1000. Right now I’m managing close to 300 employees. I couldn’t do that on the old way. Yeah.

12:23 JL: So let’s talk about that for a second. So, thinking about these folks where it’s become more of a system. What are some of the leadership principles that you feel like have been the most valuable in, you know, getting people to the point where you can have faith that you don’t need to watch them like a hawk?

Changing Seats on the Bus

MARY CRAFTS: Okay. Two books that I have loved, one is Good to Great. And that’s kind of an old fan favorite. It’s been out for a long time now. But a lot of people still love it. There are a couple of things… I didn’t agree with everything. But there are a couple of things. Just that idea of getting the right people on the bus. And when you meet someone and find someone who you know is a fit for the culture of your company, you’ll find this right spot for them.  And once they get on the bus don’t be afraid to change seats. I sometimes… for example I had this baker. She was amazing. She became my executive baker. And she could do wedding cakes and she could formulate anything from scratch just by giving her an idea. ‘Hey I want to do this marjolaine, Blah blah blah’. And she’d be like ok I’ve got that. After working in the bakery for five years. She came to me and said ‘Mary, I want to be a wedding planner.’ And I said ‘I’m sorry, you aren’t allowed. You must stay in the bakery. You must always be in the bakery because that’s where I put you’. And she said ‘okay’. And then about six months went by and she came and said ‘Mary I really feel like this is what I want to do. Can I have a shot at it’. I said ‘You know I can tell this is a passion for you and I can tell you really want to do this, so I’m going to trust you enough to let you out of that seat and into a new one’. And she has become our number one wedding planner. She’s now planning the weddings that I’m leaving behind when I step out. They belong to her. And if I would’ve tried to keep her on that spot on that bus, we would be missing out on one of our best employees. So for me that’s been really allowing people to really shine within their own talents. And not where I think they need to be. And if you want to be somewhere else, find another job. That’s not where I operate from any more. I walked back the other day and I saw one of our dishwashers cutting and chopping, I’m like ‘OH! Wait wait what are we doing here?’ And they said; ‘We actually found out that he’d gone to culinary school’. And I go ‘what?’ And they go ‘Yeah and we need some extra hands’. And now he’s on the line. One of our chefs. And so it was just, that willingness to let that go. The second piece comes from the book The Advantage.

14:58 JL: By Patrick Lencioni?

MARY CRAFTS: That’s the one. He really talks about the culture. And no matter what else I do here, no matter how many SOPS I write, no matter how much business I sell, how many trainings I create for the staff, whatever it is, the most important thing is the team. I must always keep that in mind. Sometimes I’ve kept people on board too long, who were poisonous to the team. Because I either didn’t have the courage to let them go or I felt sorry for them, or whatever the reason was. And I watched them poison the team. And I’ve learned that lesson now. I don’t wait so long. I do work with people. I try to move them out of that space, but when I see that they are stuck there, I move them on because the most important thing that I’m protecting always is the culture and this team. We had a training meeting just this week on building confidence. Confidence as you lead an event as you pass the hor’dourves. Whatever it is that you do it in confidence. And how you feel about working here at Culinary Crafts, and different things. I did some role playing. It was a really fun training. But afterwards I awarded two awards to people who I saw had  come the furthest. And I talked about one who was just ‘tell me what to do, and I’ll do it’ person to now managing. And another person who the first time she worked had to go home because the work was too hard on her back. And now she is managing our warehouse. And to see the distance that those two people had come and to have them give really their testimonies as to how that happened and what that was about. And then out of the blue I called on Rachel. And I said, ‘Rachel you were with us last week when we received the Best of State statute for the best of all the hospitality companies in Utah. And you went up on stage with us. I want you share how you felt.’ And as she started to cry she said I was so proud to be up there to be part of this team to be part of something that was the best. To be built from the ground up. The sweat and equity that had gone in it. And as she talked I realized that was a piece of the confidence. Knowing that it’s not just working for the team, it’s knowing that that team is part of somebody who’s committed to the best. So in leadership. Great companies don’t flow from the bottom up. It will start with great employees and then the CEO becomes great. Greatness flows from the top dow. And when the CEO and the executives and the management are clear about their vision, their principles, what they are going to live by and what they are about, the rest of the team gets it. And they come on board. And you protect that no matter what. If someone comes on board who doesn’t want to live in abundance, then I can teach them about it. I can show them about it. I can get them examples of how it works.  But if they are still living in scarcity then they can’t be here.

18:03 JL: You know living in a culture that likes to be so nice. There is such a…

MARY CRAFTS: [laughs]

18:09 JL: you know everybody gets a trophy. But talk about making those hard decisions. So many of us who run organizations, we do the exact opposite. We hire quickly but take forever to let go.


Teaching the Law of the Harvest

18:22 JL: Talk about when it is time to move on. How you approach that? You know, especially advice for the rest of us who either we don’t like conflict like me…

MARY CRAFTS: Nobody likes it.

18:37 JL: Or you… I lie to myself like ‘No it can work itself out’.

MARY CRAFTS: No it can get better. The eternal optimist. It is a true principle, this idea that what we call the law of the harvest. In every culture in the world this principle exists. Whether it’s known as the golden rule, karma, what goes around comes around, we reap what we sow, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, playing win win, the law of abundance. It’s all the same principle. And so when people play out of abundance they play out of win win. And when you have someone on your team who is not in alignment, then you are playing win lose. And sometimes lose lose. So by bringing them in and this will not be the first time they’ve heard this thing on the law of the harvest. They will have heard it a million times. So they will know what I’m talking about. And I will tell them. This is not working for us. And because of the law of the harvest I know it’s not working for you if you were too really look inside. The best thing I can do for you is to turn you lose so you have an opportunity to find the place where you can play win win and give your all and put it all in there. And maybe you will have learned a lesson here about what you can do differently. But continuing this path doesn’t serve either one of us. It doesn’t serve me and I’m not serving you. And out of the love for our culture for me and for you, we need to end this so you can go on and truly be who you are meant to be. I’ve said that speech over and over again. And people don’t get it. You know, they’re like, they start in with the excuses. Okay great ‘well but…’ And some people leave with ‘well the hell with you….some four letter words’. But some people leave understanding. And a light bulb comes on and I know in the next position it will be different for them. But one thing I do promise everyone even before they walk out that door. Even if you don’t understand it today, I promise’ the day will come when you will. And you will look back and you will say ‘thanks Mary for having the courage to teach me this lesson’. There you go.

21:25 JL: I think that’s a great place to stop for part one of the episode.

MARY CRAFTS: Okay. [laughs]

21:31 JL: Everyone be sure to tune back in for part two we’re going to get more wisdom from Mary.


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[END] 22:32