Bill Moloney: Account Ability

How do you take a large and well-functioning university foodservice operation, serving more than 25,000 meals per day, to the next level? Bill Moloney, senior director for dining and auxiliary enterprises at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, will tell you it's achieved through a process of continuous improvement based on surveying students relentlessly. In fact, at this university, which will mark its 200th anniversary in 2009 and where foodservice celebrated its own 100-year milestone in 2005, the self-op department recently marked its 30th year of surveying all residence hall students, a process that now includes 42 questions that can be answered on-line.

"In 1984, when I first came here, we said we lived and died by that survey," Moloney recalls. "Last year, we had 96% of students who said they were satisfied with foodservice. That's unheard of! In 1994 or '95, when we cracked 90%, we threw a party and felt great about ourselves. But we thought about it: that means if there are 50 people in line, five don't like what you're doing, and that brings you back to reality."

Following leaders: Moloney is nothing if not a realist, albeit one with vision and a willingness to take calculated risks in thinking out of the box. Of course, without administration's support, many of his initiatives wouldn't have gotten off the ground.

"There's tremendous leadership here, that's why I came back to Miami," he asserts. "There's a goal of continuous improvement, with everyone working for the good of the students. People here find a way to make it happen. Their methods (of leadership) are fiscally sound yet dynamic."

While earning his undergraduate degree in accounting, Moloney worked in restaurants, where he was drawn to the management side of the business. When a job he held in an accounting office during the summer of his junior year proved disappointing, he had to rethink his career goals. "I couldn't stand the work, although it came easy," he explains. "For the next two years I focused on cost accounting and took a lot of management courses. For several years after graduation I managed a business that bought and sold former Pizza Hut locations, but it was not going as fast as I'd expected."

Much to learn: "So, in 1984, I applied at Miami as an assistant foodservice manager. My family, my wife Diane, my friends and even I thought I wouldn't last because I'd always been the boss or had worked directly for the owner. But I fell in love with it. It was exciting and there was so much to learn."

Moloney remained at Miami for almost a dozen years, steadily advancing to the position of administrative manager of foodservice operations overseeing seven of the 13 dining halls. In a strategic career move, this father of three accepted a job in 1996 as associate director at Ohio University in Athens. There, during the course of a five-year stint, he became the foodservice director, but when an opening in student dining came up at Miami University, he quickly applied and rejoined the team six years ago.

Today his department reports more than $37.5 million in annual sales and Moloney can point to numerous changes made since his return in an ongoing effort to enhance product delivery and expand choices.

Crown jewel: Top of the list, truly the jewel in the crown, is the opening of the Culinary Support Center. Up and running for the past four years, the state-of-the-art warehousing and production facility is located in a former Krogers supermarket purchased by the university for this project.

"We were operating in a facility built in 1932," Moloney says. "We were buying about $8 million worth of food a year, then storing and shipping it out to campus locations. We had to decide whether or not to get out of the warehousing and trucking business."

Visits to other university and even hospital foodservice operations inspired construction of a new facility. "We knew were saving about a quarter of a million dollars annually by buying our own food and running our own warehouse operation in the old facility," he explains. "We also calculated that if we bought more and produced more, we'd generate more savings and increase the choices for students, especially in prepared and packaged foods and in our bakery. Plus, each of our 10 kitchens were doing their own vegetable processing at the time."

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