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Salli Setta is president of Red Lobster and alongside CEO Kim Lopdrop led the company through a spin from publicly traded to privately held in 2014.

5 Steps to Get to the Top from the President of Red Lobster

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One senior-level leader's advice on finding work that makes you smile.
By Laura D'Alessandro April 2019 Executive Insights

Salli Setta started out her career bussing tables at a restaurant she could get to on public transportation. She recognizes now that many people think of restaurant jobs as the in between, but for her, it was the start of a long career with many big moves. In the past decade, Salli has moved from positions in marketing and culinary innovation to the helm at Red Lobster, working side-by-side with CEO Kim Lopdrup as the company spun from public to private ownership in 2014. So how can you go from bussing tables to leading the company? Here’s some advice from the top.

1. Network

It may sound like career advice 101, but Setta’s career wouldn’t have started without it. Setta landed her first job after college as a technical writer but soon realized it just wasn’t for her. What did she do? Talk to everyone she could until she stumbled onto a connection at the Olive Garden where they were looking to fill an entry-level marketing position. Setta went on to lead that department.

2. Ask For What You Want

While out on maternity leave, Setta received a call from the office offering her a new position, but it wasn’t one she wanted. She later talked to her boss who said there was another open position she’d be a great fit for—one she’d been wanting all along. But he thought she wasn’t interested because she hadn’t said anything. “I learned a lesson there that I didn't say what I wanted. They weren't clear about what I wanted. And so he made an assumption that I wouldn't want that job, and I made the assumption that they just weren't taking me for it.” And guess what? She got the job.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Setta turned down that first job she was offered while out on maternity leave. It involved a lot of travel and working nights and weekends, and she’d just had her first child. It also just wouldn’t have been a good fit, but Setta was worried she might derail her career. Instead by saying no, she opened up the conversation for a job that really leveraged her skills.

4. Lean on Your Support

When making all these decisions, Setta has leaned on mentors and her husband. “You need those people, and you need your spouse to say, Hey, you know what? Give yourself some more credit. So I think he's been a great coach, too.”

5. Find Work that Makes You Smile

Throughout her career, Setta says, there were clues as to what type of work she really enjoyed—leadership, getting people together, seeing ideas come to life. Aligning these parts of who she is with her work has been her secret to success. “I always give this advice to everyone, regardless if it's in the restaurant industry or not. You need to find a job that makes you smile. You're going to be there a lot.”

Get more advice from the restaurant industry’s leading ladies in FSR’s monthly podcast, Worth Your Salt. In March, we sat down with three high-powered women at the Women’s Foodservice Forum Annual Leadership Development Conference.

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