Are there any specific things you wish you knew before you joined Union Square Hospitality Group?
I wish I spoke French and Italian because a lot of what we have done restaurant wise/ research wise has run through Italy and France. I also wish I spoke Spanish because almost ⅓ of the company speaks Spanish, and I would love to be able to communicate to that population more directly than I am able to at the moment. It’s also an excuse that I haven’t learned to speak Spanish over 25 years, but I wish I came in with that. I don’t think I would have wanted to know anything else otherwise because it has been a great learning experience.
I worked for Wolfgang Pup for a decent amount of time, and I was in his inner circle so I saw incredible marketing from him. I got a masters degree from watching him as a marketer. He made my career; he is like a second father to me in some ways. I wouldn’t be Danny’s partner if it wasn’t for Wolf; I owe him everything. I accredit meeting him to luck and relationships. Wolf was looking for somebody and somebody that I was close with referred him to me; it never hurts to have people advocating for you. The way you do this is do something really well and have people notice it. I was fortunate that I did some things well, people noticed it, and when the question came up someone said “you need to talk to Richard.” I think one of the things that is really important in life is people advocating for you and referrals because you, as a professional, are putting your name on somebody else. I think it is a lot like sports; if you are good people notice you, and they want you on their team.
Throughout your journey what has been the largest obstacle you have had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
I am trying to get my mind around the word “obstacle” and insert “challenge.” The biggest obstacle has always been myself, and the challenge when I was younger was my belief that I need to be the smartest and most talented person in the room, and it was important for me to show everyone that. As I have led organizations, it is evident that it is much more important to surround yourself with talented people and help them do what they do best. It took me a while to get over the fact that I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Many years ago I had a partner who helped me by saying, “you’re the most talented guy I have ever been around, and I see how hard you are trying, but we don’t really love working with you. If you can just understand that you don’t have to prove anything, that you just have to help people be good at who they are, things are going to really sort out in a good way.” I trusted him, and this became an obstacle that I was able to get over.
As we evolved another obstacle that I had to get over was my need to prove to the world that I can do more things than anybody, and that I can be superhuman. I wanted to be able to say I can do five things at once, and I’m the only person that can do this. That was a bad choice because I was just proving to myself that I could do it; I wasn’t more productive, and there is no award at the end of the year for our company for “the person that can do the most at once.” It is more about how you can make things better everyday.
What I have learned is to say “my greatest joy comes from seeing people that I work with doing really well.” I take a look at them almost like family and go “I’m so proud of what blank is doing, he owns his own restaurant and I mentored him.” I feel great about that because I helped someone do something or I taught them something. I have a scorecard that I keep in my head which tracks how many people that have worked for me now run their own business; this gives me a lot of pride. I have this pride where I see somebody starting their own company, and hopefully I have given them the toolbox to make it into a success. There’s an old saying that is “teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a long time.” I think with leadership we frequently ask people to watch us fish, and then we give them the fish; What I try to do is teach people how to open their own fish store and then they can do whatever they want to do with the fish. This is the most rewarding thing to me; it gives me such pride.
What is some final advice you want to give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Don’t try to map your whole life out in one day; let it come to you. It is a big world out there, it is a changing world. The industry I got into 30 years is not the industry it is today, but there are some similarities such that it will always be a relationship business, it will always be a business that if done right will make people’s lives better, and it will always be something that is a very human business. It is the human connection that matters most. Be curious. Be patient. Be flexible. When one door closes, another door opens. For me, flexibility has equated to 25 years of pride and pretty decent success with Danny. If I was inflexible, I wouldn’t have had such a joyous run with USHG. The flexibility is what has enriched my life both professionally and personally. The world needs you to be flexible, people need you to be flexible.
I would tell you to take a creative writing class because you are going to have to write stuff to people. I would tell you to take an oranizational sociology class because you are going to be with people of different ethnicities and walks of life that you are going to need to understand. I would tell you to take the opportunity to do as much public speaking as you can because you are going to have to stand in front of people and convey information that is going to convince them that you are on their side.
• USHG's website
• Richard Coraine's LinkedIn