During a 30-year foodservice career, Amy Greenberg has learned how her role fits into the larger corporate world; only thing is, she keeps redefining it.
At A Glance: Amy Greenberg
•Senior Vice President
•Citi Executive Services, New York, N.Y.
•Grew up in West Orange, N.J.
•BA in English from Hofstra University, associate’s degree in culinary arts from the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park
•Married to Al Levy, has one son, Dylan, 13
•Manages Citi’s Executive Dining and Conferencing division, which reports to Executive Services. She is also responsible for coordinating multimedia support for conference and meeting spaces.
•Executive Dining has three New York City locations, one in Chicago and one in San Francisco, each with seating for 50 to 200 people. Citi has three NYC-area conference center locations, which have 10 to 24 meeting and training rooms, 300-seat auditoriums, full media support and full-service catering.
•Among Greenberg’s accomplishments at Citi have been the integration of multimedia groups under the Executive Services umbrella, which increased managed volume by 44%. Greenberg also implemented sustainable and organic purchasing and initiated a team to collect used foodservice oil for conversion into biodiesel fuel.
Amy Greenberg’s passion for foodservice has served her well during her 28-year career, especially recently with unstable market conditions causing her to walk a tightrope of maintaining budgets and creating efficiencies while still offering high quality service. Although, tough times may lie ahead, Greenberg’s insatiable drive to succeed has already allowed her to make her mark on Citi’s Executive Services.
“My father was in the camping business and a lot of camp property owners had company picnics at the campground on weekends. I always worked those events and we would serve hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, clam chowder and other picnic-type foods to hundreds of people. I did that for many years and I enjoyed interacting with people and playing with food. So when I graduated from college, there wasn’t much I could do with an English degree so I applied to the CIA. It was one of the five best things I’ve ever done. I loved handling the food and I loved learning about cooking.
I think foodservice and hospitality are about one of life’s most basic needs: nurturing. It’s about caring; it’s about taking care of people and it’s about love. How can you not be passionate about that? I believe I would have been driven to succeed in any field I chose—I’m just a very competitive person—however, I was very turned on by foodservice during my time at the CIA, which made it easy to follow my competitive instincts.
I sought a job in the corporate sector because I really didn’t want to do the restaurant lifestyle. I got a job at Saga, which was a predecessor company to what is now Sodexo. The job was a chef manager position at a Wall Street company called Drexel Burnham Lambert. They wanted to hire a culinary graduate because they really wanted someone to spice up their program. When I got there, it was a very old-fashioned executive dining room. They wanted to bring in some new blood and get some new ideas, so that’s what I did. I modernized menus and brought in à la carte techniques, and it was very successful. They actually hired me on to be their client liaison and interface with the contractor. I left to go to a similar job at American Express, but that was to open up a new building and manage their dining, which was a big growth experience for me.
I came to Citi in 1996. I’ve stayed through several mergers; when I first came here the company was much smaller and called Smith Barney. Although my role was consistent from merger to merger, my responsibilities grew in size, scope and complexity with each change. The changes all brought about different expectations and as the complexity grew, so did accountability. You also have to learn, understand and balance the new culture in order to incorporate and manage it into your current operational parameters. Throughout all the mergers, I learned that they are inevitably emotional and difficult, but in order to move forward, you need to quickly build bridges and trust so you can manage a new team.
About four years ago, several departments were consolidated under Executive Services, and I was brought in to lead Executive Dining and Conferencing. I was in charge of several different functions and that move culminated in the current organization that I have today. So I guess I’m proud of that consolidation, bringing together all of the dining and conferencing services as one. The challenges of that centered around volume—number of meals served, number of staff, etc.—consistent service standards and maintaining quality. Before the consolidation, there were two multimedia groups that managed similar services. One was outsourced and one was in house. The idea was to really put together an end-to-end meetings services model. It was a challenge getting everybody on the same page, which is especially important when somebody goes from one facility to another. From an operational standpoint, it made our costs more predictable and easier to control.
I am all about harmony. While that can be a double-edged sword—at work, as in life, there is conflict—it has served me well. I am a careful listener and through compromise and negotiation, I have the ability to bring sides together to form an effective, productive team. Experience has also taught me myriad lessons in human behavior and character. Also, how to manage differences through prioritizing, through patience and by allowing problems time to develop, to evolve and to find resolution. I am not shy about expressing my opinions when appropriate. I have also learned that ego plays no role in team building.
If you choose to work for a company that isn’t your core business and you choose to be in support services, I think you can create a huge amount of value. You need to look at yourself as a strategic partner, and the key to that is remaining flexible and being able to navigate change. By understanding the message that is being delivered by senior management, I can interpret those messages and communicate them to my folks.
Day to day my work is always changing. Market conditions are very challenging now. All of the businesses within Citi have been tasked with managing expenses, and we are no different. We continue to analyze all our operational expenses across the board. We are proactive every day and we look to leverage resources and find efficiencies wherever possible. We are working with our clients, who are facing their own budgetary constraints, and we remain flexible so we can still provide high quality services at a reasonable cost.
My proudest moment probably came on September 11, 2001. Our facility is not far from the World Trade Center, so beginning the next day, along with Aramark—our contract partner— we provided several thousands of meals to our employees at a disaster recovery site in New Jersey. When we came back to Manhattan, we served meals at our downtown site as well. We provided free meals to those two sites for about two weeks, which was a huge challenge. That day was the most disturbing and emotionally wrenching experience of my life. It was one time I can remember when I felt, if only for a few moments, physically threatened. It was obviously a crisis situation, and I’m proud that everybody came together and gave a lot under very stressful, difficult and emotional circumstances. Food becomes extremely important in the face of any disaster. When people are being fed, it gives them a sense of normalcy and, literally, the strength to move forward. Once the initial trauma wore off, the logistical challenges of the next steps—feeding our staff and keeping our business afloat—became very critical. Mobilizing the team with our foodservice partner became a remarkable means to assuage the initial trauma. Being part of that effort was an uplifting experience in the face of such monumental disaster. It helped us all to spur on the healing process.
Another thing that has meant a lot to me is my involvement with SFM. The great thing about all professional organizations is if what you do is not the core business of your company, you can get a huge amount of support from the organization, which I’ve received from SFM. I knew from the first time I went to one of their gatherings, I had found my place. In SFM, I’m with my colleagues; I’m with people who get what I’m doing and understand the issues within the foodservice arena. One of my proudest achievements in SFM was being a part of the creation of the SFM Women’s Council. Being able to bring education and leadership development to the women in the organization meant a lot to me and I’m happy with its success.
I’ve had many mentors in SFM who taught me to understand what I do, relative to where I work. No matter how passionate you are about what you do and the services you deliver, you need to understand how it fits into the big picture. The role of client liaison is walking the line between two worlds every day. We want our team to function with global perspective and knowledge of how to best do their jobs no matter who is leading the company or where the company is going.”