Laura Rea Dickey Rising Through the Ranks
From Franchise 1851
By Cassidy McAloon
The CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants says that the industry is full of opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs and employees to succeed.
Laura Rea Dickey has always been involved in the restaurant business. From her first job as a hostess at Lone Star Steakhouse to her current position as CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., Dickey has had a front row seat to the industry’s evolution. And if you ask her, those changes are moving restaurants in a positive direction.
“I started working in the restaurant industry at a time when it was ready to go to the next level. Instead of being behind the curve, brands were ready to take on the latest technology and innovate in an exciting space,” Dickey said. “I was fortunate in that from a timing standpoint, I had enough marketing, advertising and web experience to tap into that landscape and make the most of the opportunity to grow.”
Dickey first launched her professional career in advertising. But at the time, she still had one foot in the restaurant industry—she worked with restaurant clients who were looking to enhance their marketing efforts and digital presence. That’s why it wasn’t a stretch when she made the switch to work on the client side of things. Dickey first worked as a strategic planner for Dickeys Barbecue Restaurants before taking over the role of CIO. She focused on building a technology roadmap for Dickey’s, and creating an authentic experience for every customer that walked through their doors.
Now, as CEO, Dickey is still focused on innovation. With the goal of growing the brand from just under 600 stores to over 700 this time next year—including new international locations—she’s taking the brand’s technology from the back of the house and also implementing it in a customer-facing setting. The brand is in the process of testing its own online ordering system, for example, which is designed to engage guests in a new way and make dining at Dickey’s more convenient.
To implement those types of changes and move the brand in a positive direction, Dickey relies on a leadership team that’s made up of 16 passionate and talented professionals. It’s those different opinions and perspectives that helps the brand stay connected to consumers.
“Diversity always enhances a brand’s outcome. Having folks on your team with different perspectives and backgrounds—whether it’s a variety of ages, experiences or genders—is so important when it comes to being successful,” Dickey said. “At the end of the day, it’s beneficial to have your leadership team be reflective of your guests. That’s how you can truly identify with your customers and provide them with the products and services that they’re looking for.”
The Dickey’s brand boasts an incredibly diverse leadership team—12 out of its 16 executives are women. But Dickey notes that it’s not their gender that makes them successful. It’s their commitment to working hard and ability to organically grow through the ranks.
“There’s certainly more diversity in the workplace now than there was when I was just starting out. It used to be that I was one of the only women at both tech and restaurant conferences. But that’s not the case anymore,” said Dickey. “The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse industries out there, which speaks to the fact that you can really find an opportunity to grow within it. Whether you’ve had a traditional or nontraditional career path, you can find a way to get your foot in the door and organically work your way up.”
There are numerous opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to work their way up in the restaurant franchising industry, both at Dickey’s and beyond. And as more brands continue to welcome new members to their leadership team from all walks of life, Dickey believes that there’s room for women to continue driving the restaurant industry forward.
Dickey said, “The best advice that I have for women working their way up the ladder both in business and in franchising is to think about nothing but your goal. You have to want to go further and be willing to stay longer and work harder. If you stay focused on your goal, you’re going to end up exactly where you want to be.”