Chris Elliott | Crain's Tampa Bay

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chris Elliott

Background:  

Founded by Jeff Martin in Tampa in 2008, The Brass Tap is an upscale craft beer bar with 60 taps and 200 varieties of local, national and international beers. The restaurant also features craft cocktails, a premium selection of wines, and a food menu designed around community and sharing. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, meanwhile, is a chain of family-friendly sports pubs with multiple locations across the Tampa Bay area. For information about franchise opportunities, visit the company’s website

The Mistake:

I didn’t cultivate relationships with senior management people.

I spent my first 15 years in the restaurant industry working for Pizza Hut when it was owned by PepsiCo. They were great years, a great environment, and I enjoyed every moment. I learned the basics of the business there and have carried that knowledge with me throughout the rest of my career.

I was very ambitious and I worked very hard and I had a lot of success. I got promoted multiple times. But of course, the higher you get, the more competitive it gets and the tougher it is to get to that next spot. In that kind of system, there’s a level that you get to where you’re kind of “in the club.” Well, I hit a ceiling and couldn’t break through to that level.

I didn’t really realize until I left why I didn’t break through, the mistake that I had made. It was not about performance. My performance was good and I saw people get promoted ahead of me who I thought that I was at least equal to. I would ask myself, “My performance is the same or better. What am I not doing right?”

What I discovered is that I didn’t cultivate relationships with senior management people who can mentor you and recommend you to move into the upper stratosphere of a larger organization.

I came from a background where being too friendly with your boss was not looked on favorably.

The Lesson:

At a certain level, you have to cultivate senior “sponsorship.” I did not understand that and I did not do it. I thought if I just did a really good job and consistently did a good job and outperformed my peers, then that should speak for itself.

I came from a background where being too friendly with your boss or palling around with your boss was not looked on favorably, and cultivating those kinds of relationships was looked at in a negative way. My failure to do that was a huge learning experience for me as I looked back on it, and it helped me understand that in business in general, and in life in general, you have to have competencies in certain areas to be able to do the job. But to be really effective as a leader, cultivating relationships at all levels is really, I think, the difference between topping out at some point in your career and moving all the way up to running a company.

There are other aspects to leadership besides relationship-building, of course, but that’s a huge one. And coming to appreciate that was a big lesson for me because I’d spent 15 years with one organization. And after I left and looked back, I finally understood what I hadn’t done and I was able to use that going forward.

Follow The Brass Tap on Twitter at @the_brass_tap and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s at @BEEFOBRADY.

Photo courtesy of No Limit Agency

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