Succession Planning Shouldn’t Be a Bear: What an FX Series Says about a Banking Career

My family and I just finished watching FX Network’s terrific, poignant, intense, and sometimes hilarious show The Bear. The show’s direction, sound, and performances warranted it multiple Emmys last month (and, oh, that soundtrack!).

Millions of fans are chomping at the bit for Season 3 (hang tight a little longer … it’s coming in June). However, the bank geek in me keeps thinking about its lessons around recruiting, cultural fit, talent management, retention, succession planning, and workforce development.

Humor me as I explain.

But first, this warning: If you haven’t watched The Bear, there may be light spoilers below.

© 2023, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

A New CEO

Jeremy Allen White as Carmy. © 2023, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

The series revolves around a brilliant chef, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White. He is forced to leave his New York restaurant and return home to Chicago when he inherits The Original Beef of Chicagoland (“The Beef”), a dive restaurant owned by his late brother, Michael.

Michael, it seems, did not have a succession plan, leaving no appropriate suitors at The Beef to take over the helm in his absence. Carmy is therefore thrust into the leadership role, mimicking the proverbial “What if the CEO is hit by a bus?” question that constantly worries bank board members.

Much to the chagrin of the existing staff, Carmy is the new outsider CEO whom they must accept, and vice versa.

The restaurant does not conduct a search to land Carmy. Rather, he simply receives the restaurant (and all its debts and assets), much like happens to the next in line at a family-owned bank.

A Seemingly Bad Fit

Carmy would not be an obvious pick for this eatery, outside of his chef skills and his relation to Michael, if this scenario were addressed as a traditional executive search.

He represents a cultural mismatch. Carmy is accustomed to Michelin stars, New York sophistication, and fine dining.

His hiring is more akin to a community bank courting someone from Bank of America: His fit within The Beef is very questionable. How will Carmy adapt to its grimy, chaotic nature when his prior work experience has been so elegant and disciplined?

Carmy’s first instinct is to sell the restaurant. Similarly, a lot of family-owned bank board members may ponder doing the same once they realize their intended, next-gen inheritor of a bank voices no interest in a financial services industry career.

However, Carmy doubles down and dives into the task of winning over his new team. He creates a new vision for the restaurant, transforming the traditional, legacy, Original Beef into something more sophisticated and modern, intending to attract younger customers.

Sound familiar bankers?

Keeping Tabs on Succession Candidates

Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri, as Carmy and Sydney. © 2023, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

Ayo Edebiri plays Sydney “Syd” Adamu, The Beef’s sous-chef. Carmy hires her early in the first season, again ruffling the feathers of the existing team.

There’s another banking parallel, right? A new bank CEO bringing in his own guy?

In the show’s second season, Syd sees firsthand how disrupted the restaurant space has become, owing to the pandemic, its negative effect on the economy, and changing customer habits and interactions.

This reality should also ring a bell among bankers.

Syd travels all over Chicago, exhilaratingly sampling foods, services, and processes at peer restaurants, to find inspiration. She speaks to waitstaff, chefs, and owners, putting out feelers for her own staffing needs. Her networking with this close-knit community allows her to know the top local talents.

This is another great lesson for bankers. Succession planning at its simplest is tracking internal and external candidates for key roles. Like Sydney, you’ve got to know who the top talents are in your region. A bank should be following the careers of their competitors’ best people.

In citing something that I found humorous, Syd posts her open positions on a job board — instead of using a Travillian-style firm for restaurateurs — and winds up hiring several new team members this way.

Her approach, however, goes awry when one of them turns out to be an undependable drug abuser.  Surely a good recruiter would’ve vetted these red flags out, correct?

Developing Internal Succession Candidates

In every industry — especially banking – it is critical to provide professional development for younger leaders. Emerging, talented employees can be ambitious and impatient, but if they are consistently gaining knowledge, especially in rotational or mentorship programs, you can keep them engaged.

In The Bear, Carmy and Syd decide to invest in their own people. This includes several characters, notably Tina, the stuck-in-her-ways line chef played by Liza Colon-Zayas, and Marcus (Lionel Boyce), an inexperienced baker with much potential. They both get tutelage in the form of culinary school and apprenticeships, which builds confidence and understanding of their fit in the new restaurant regime.

Mentoring

The theme of mentorship deepens in The Bear with manager Richie Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Carmy asks Richie to spend a week

Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richie. © 2023, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

away from The Beef, learning the finer points of upscale service at a local, high-priced, five-star restaurant.

Richie quickly becomes annoyed at the mindless, manual labor tasks he’s given, including the responsibility for meticulously cleaning forks.

When he reaches his breaking point, however, his mentor at the ritzy establishment helps him understand the privilege of working there. The humbling moment unlocks in Richie a valuable truism: In the restaurant business, customers can choose to eat anywhere. But if they choose to eat at your restaurant, they need to be treated like family.

After this awakening, Richie becomes a bona fide leader — almost a culinary Chief Operating Officer — to Carmy and Sydney, as well as a truly viable succession candidate.

As a character, Richie has several takeaways for bankers, including the career possibilities the financial services industry holds. The teller-to-CEO evolution may not be an everyday occurrence for fledgling bankers. But the reality that it happens to tellers speaks to the value of being thirsty for growth and of leveraging others’ beliefs in them.

Also applicable is the idea that customers can bank anywhere. If they opt to bank with you, they deserve first-class treatment. The service and sales nature of the financial services industry should always be top of mind.

Cooking Up Success

The professional parallels between The Bear’s kitchen and a community bank may not be apparent. But what is evident is this: A business leader with a clear vision and a mature leadership development process can transform a seemingly dysfunctional team into a prepared, effective, and sharp unit across any industry.

And from that unit might well emerge a future leader who can step right into the role, should it become vacated.

How many cooks are in your banking kitchen? Are they in the right stations? And are they aware of the possibility of migrating from the back of the house to the top positions at the front of the house?


Travillian’s Banking and FinTech Practice provides Search and Talent Advisory services to depository institutions across the country. Established in 1998, the firm has built a unique platform that touches every corner of the industry. To learn more, click here, or get in touch below!

Brian Love, Head of Banking & Fintech
(484) 680-6950 | blove@travilliangroup.com

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