Danny Meyer’s Generosity Yields Huge Returns
“When Danny Meyer smiles, other people smile too. His good humor and hopefulness are highly infectious. Danny and I are walking along a Manhattan street, coming back to his office from a webcast we’ve just taped for Forbes.com about how to be a good people manager. Danny’s talking about the speaking gigs he’s been doing lately, and he’s excited. I notice people looking at him and breaking into spontaneous grins – it’s fun just to be around his energy. The good vibes continue when we get back into the Union Square Hospitality Group offices – the company of which Danny is founder and CEO. People seem genuinely glad to see him. As he walks toward his office, each little encounter is full of life: a shared smile; a brief greeting; a moment spent telling someone that he liked a graphic she had created; a quick question and response with one of his partners.
We’ve been working with Danny and his team for 20 years – they’re our longest client relationship. When I began developing this leadership model in the mid-nineties, Danny was the first person I thought of as an exemplar of the generous leader. And as I watch him make his way through the USHG office on this occasion, I see it again: Danny is generous with all the things a leader has to offer. He’s generous with time, attention, praise, resources, trust, information, knowledge, and – perhaps most notably – power.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
It’s been both inspiring and educational observing Danny over the past twenty years; I love the opportunity provided by long-term client relationships to watch businesses and people grow. When I first met Danny in 1993, he had one restaurant – Union Square Cafe – and was in the process of moving toward opening his second, Gramercy Tavern. Now Union Square Hospitality Group, the company Danny and his partners formed to tie together all their establishments, is a NY-based world-spanning collection of fine dining restaurants, barbeque/jazz joints, a catering company, fast food emporia and upscale concessions at major sports arenas. And though these venues are hugely disparate in terms of menu, price point and locale, all of them have generosity at their core, as a bottom line value. Each of the enterprises is founded on Danny’s philosophy of ‘enlightened hospitality,’ which consists of five simple tenets: take care of each other; take care of our guests; take care of our vendors; take care of the community; and take care of the shareholders.
And he really means it. I’ve watched, over all these years, as Danny and his partners have made consistent effort to ensure that these principles of foundational generosity live in every person they hire and every business they run. It’s always tough to balance growth with maintaining a strong positive culture – it’s easy for core principles to get lost in the imperatives of profit, especially when you’re adding lots of new people to the mix all the time – but Danny and his team are doing a remarkable job.
Generosity in a leader is a wonderful thing to observe. It has almost mystical properties. I’m reminded of the quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, “For it is in giving that we receive.” I used to think that was meant to refer only to the experience of giving; that we receive the benefit of feeling spiritually and emotionally great when we’re genuinely generous. And it’s true that being generous feels wonderful. However, I’ve noticed that those leaders who give consistently – who are generous with time, belief, hope, resources, power and knowledge – also receive on a practical material level. They receive people’s loyalty, commitment, and effort. Because their followers give back creativity, hopefulness, energy, collaboration, and hard work, their generosity becomes a powerful catalyst for growth – their own personal growth, but also their people’s growth, and the growth and prosperity of their business.
As an investment, generosity gives great returns on every level. Leaders – take note.