We hear a lot these days about women breaking barriers and achieving firsts—whether it’s

  • Our new Vice President, the first female, the first Black female, to hold that office;
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the first female to join the Harvard Law Review in the 50’s, the first female professor to be tenured at Columbia University, and the reasoned and unwavering voice for gender equality and women’s rights on the Supreme Court for 27 years.
  • NASA engineer Dr. Swati Mohan, the Guidance & Controls Operations Lead for the Mars Mission 2020 who, with her team, guided Perseverance to a safe landing on Mars after a 145-million-mile journey, announcing “Touchdown confirmed” to the entire world.

During the Food Allergy Symposium for Industry, organized by Betsy Craig and MenuTrinfo and sponsored by Unilever, attendees heard from two women who’ve spent their careers breaking down barriers as serial trailblazers to the C-Suite.

It’s about the ‘Why’; Not just the ‘What’

Lorna Donatone met Edna Morris at a Women’s Foodservice Forum conference.  Lorna remembers an honest story from the main stage about ‘career’ — Edna’s story.  Lorna was blown away by Edna whose personal mission has been to create opportunities for women and minorities since she graduated from college with a degree in psychology.  Lorna shares, “I have a finance background. I’m a black and white person. You put your head down. You run the numbers. You work hard. Then I got exposed to leaders like Edna through the Women’s Foodservice Forum.  That was really when I developed into a better leader and was able to sit back and think about the ‘Why’ instead of just the ‘What’. “

Edna and Lorna shared some key leadership lessons they learned over the years with the FASI 3.0 attendees.

“You’ll never get to your future if you are always thinking about the next.” —Edna

Make sure you are really good at your current job. Lorna suggests that sometimes, “People are more focused on what’s next, what’s next, what’s next.”  Edna adds, “You can work hard and excel, but people do need to know you’re interested. Make sure people know, and then go back and be the best at what you do in your current job.  You’ll never get to your future if you’re always thinking about the next.” 

“You have more skills in your back pocket than you think you do.” —Lorna

Raise your hand.  When opportunities come up, raise your hand, even if no one else is raising theirs. Edna recounted that early on in her career she raised her hand to work the Special Olympics for her company, one of the event sponsors.  She was surprised she was picked for the job.  When she asked, she learned she was picked because nobody else would take it.  Edna explains, “Everything you work on leads to more knowledge and a broader network.” Getting exposure within organizations is important.  During that ‘special’ assignment, she met all the top people at Hardee’s, getting exposure she’d never expected and expanding her network with C-suite contacts who saw firsthand the value she contributed.   Lorna adds, “Don’t be shy about raising your hand. You have more skills in your back pocket than you think you do.” Quiet the voice in your head that says you’re not equipped to do the project or you don’t have the time. 

“Take care of the people and the results will follow.” —Lorna

Know how to lead. People first.  “Sometimes,” Lorna explains, “people get confused between managing and leading.  You need to know how to lead.” Leading is about influencing, motivating and enabling others to do their best work to add value to the business.  Many years ago, Lorna was tasked to run a river cruise business for Sodexo, a business that was struggling post-9/11.  This was her first shot at being a Division President after a CFO role.  Lorna instinctively knew she needed to focus on the team—the team was completely demoralized.  The results would come later.  Eventually, Lorna and the team turned the business around and Sodexo successfully divested it.  Lorna reflects, “Business is about people.  It’s about putting people first. Take care of the people and the results will follow.”

“We all need to be there for each other.”  —Edna

Seek mentorship and sponsorship. Offer mentorship and sponsorship.  A mentor is someone who can help you through things and can help identify the skills you need to build or the gaps you need to close. A sponsor is someone who will advocate for you. Raising your hand, getting exposed and having others advocate for you is important.  “Seek out mentors, even if your company doesn’t offer that,” Lorna advises.  “You don’t sit back and wait.  You have to go find those.  Don’t shy away from external organizations, either.  I took advantage of those. You can learn different leadership styles. Building on the thought, Edna adds, “There are so many things {external forums and groups} available, especially at this time, that don’t require you to travel.” 

And when you can, pay it forward. One of the joys of Edna’s life has been the ability to mentor young girls and boys through the Boys and Girls Club, and have conversations with young professionals about their dreams and what it might take, where it might lead.

Lorna recounted that, when she was first promoted to the executive team at Sodexo — the only female operating President — she was asked to chair a women’s network group. She had reservations, being new to the executive team and the only female.  She worried about being pigeon-holed by her gender.  When she expressed her reservations to her boss, the CEO, he had one question, “If not you, Lorna, then who?”  It’s important for people of all backgrounds to be able to see themselves in the leadership of their organizations.  She was that female leader at the time.

The success of the women’s network group at Sodexo set the stage for more inclusion.  The company fostered a grassroots environment, letting teams tell the company what was needed, especially around diversity and inclusion.  Through leadership diversity, and the creation of forums and groups, the company fostered open conversations around diversity and inclusion. 

“Get creative. And ask for help.” —Lorna

Ask for help.  Lorna offers a few additional words of wisdom, “Don’t think you have to do it by yourself.  Get your network put together. I was late in life by the time I got that network put together. Get creative. And ask for help.”   As Betsy Craig, Founder of MenuTrino—AllerTrain—Kitchens with Confidence is fond of saying, “It’s always no unless you ask. Ask and you may get to be the recipient of something wonderful…” (like this leadership talk with Lorna and Edna.)

“Don’t underestimate the impact of what you learned in the past on the future.” —Edna

Know yourself and be true to it.  When Edna Morris graduated from college with a degree in psychology, she wrote a letter to her mom, telling her mom that she didn’t know what she was going to do, but that she wanted it to be about increasing opportunities for women and minorities, helping to create environments where opportunities could happen.  Edna suggests that you need to “be purposeful and know yourself.  Be really clear about what you’re doing and why. It is exhausting to be anyone else but yourself.”  Her ‘purpose statement’, written in that letter to her mom, is as true today as it was when she graduated. It’s been her true north for her entire career. Looking ahead, Edna is looking forward to using all she’s learned in the last 40 years, never underestimating the impact of what she’s learned in the past on the future.

A sincere thank you to Lorna and Edna for sharing their lessons learned over long and successful careers. Conference attendees were definitely the recipients of ‘something wonderful’ (and actionable!)

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

 —Winston Churchill

Betsy Craig Headshot

Betsy Craig and the MenuTrinfo team organized the Food Allergy Symposium for Industry (FASI 3.0) in February’21, offering a jam-packed agenda with speakers from the food manufacturing, food services, healthcare, higher education, non-profit & advocacy, government and legal sectors.  This meeting of the minds showcased the latest and greatest food safety, advocacy, regulatory and healthcare initiatives to protect consumers with food allergies and Celiac disease from accidental exposure to foods that could make them sick.

About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO of Allergy Force, the food allergy management app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and raced to the ER. These experiences inspire her to draw on her strategy, business development and digital know-how to create tech tools for people with food allergies. Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Allergy Force is her ‘why’. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat

Meet Edna Morris and Lorna Donatone…

Edna Morris has over 40 years of executive and Board leadership experience in the food and beverage industry and in manufacturing. Edna currently serves as a Senior Advisor to the restaurant practice of PJ Solomon, an investment advisory firm.  She serves on the Board of Black Box Intelligence, a leading insights and knowledge provider for the restaurant industry. For the past decade, she was Managing Director of Axum Capital Partners, a private equity firm in the early childhood education and restaurant space.

Additionally, Edna is CEO, founder and partner in Range Restaurant Group, with two CityRange restaurants in upstate South Carolina.  Since 2004, Edna has served as a Director of Tractor Supply Company (TSCO), where she chairs the Compensation Committee and is a member of the Governance Committee, and she has served as President of various organizations, including Red Lobster.  In the early 2,000’s, Edna led the James Beard Foundation as President through a challenging turnaround period. Without her leadership it’s doubtful that this crucial restaurant industry organization would have survived. 

Edna has been recognized with numerous industry awards and is active in industry, charitable and civic endeavors, including serving as the Founding President of Women’s Foodservice Forum

Lorna Donatone currently serves as a board member for Electrolux Professional and Sbarro LLC.  She is also a board member of The Phoenix, a not-for-profit organization.  Lorna recently retired from Sodexo where she was CEO for Geographic Regions and past Region Chair for North America. She was a member of the Sodexo Group Executive Committee and past Chair of the North America Regional Leadership Committee, responsible for the coordination of businesses around the world. These senior roles were the culmination of a successful career at Sodexo that included numerous senior roles in Sodexo education-focused business units and Spirit Cruises. Find out more about Lorna’s distinguished c-suite career. <

Lorna was also instrumental in developing Sodexo’s Employee Business Resource Groups, with a commitment to diversity, inclusion, mentorship and training employees. Lorna served as a board member of the National Restaurant Association since 2005, became a trustee of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation in 2011, and is past Chair of the Board. She has also served on boards for the Women’s Foodservice Forum, the Culinary Institute of America, Jamba Juice, Inc. and Entertainment Cruises, LLC, and has been recognized with numerous industry awards.