Dan Simons is the co-owner and co-founder of Farmers Restaurant Group (FRG), which began with the launch of Founding Farmers in 2008. Since then, FRG has launched seven different restaurants throughout the D.C. metro region and one distillery. Dan’s success as a restaurateur can be attributed to his conscious leadership and commitment to all stakeholders. These values are exemplified in FRG’s business practices, such as working with family farms and maintaining sustainable operations. Dan recently founded “Our Last Straw”, a 501c3 nonprofit, with the goal of bringing together a coalition of restaurant and hospitality partners to eliminate the use and dependence on single-use plastic straws.
Emblematic of Conscious Capitalism’s four tenets, Dan’s approach to business is one from which we can all learn and grow.
Tell us about how you came into the Conscious Capitalism movement.
I had the good fortune to speak at an event of Leadership Greater Washington (LGW), where I referred to myself as a person who does capitalism consciously – I was just trying to convey what I’ve always seen as a principle- centered approach to a business career. After the LGW event, David Gardner introduced himself to me, and we were chatting, and he asked me how I learned about CC, and if I had enjoyed the book…to which I said “What Book?” – and that began my journey as I got exposed to this whole world of CC, the structure of the thought process, the movement, the like-minded people, the community. I’m thankful for having met David, and for learning a vocabulary and a construct that aligns so well with my deeply held beliefs relating to how business should be done (and life should be lived.)
How is your business deploying Conscious Capitalism, or using the tenets to shape the organization and how it operates?
From the day we decided to create a majority farmer- owned restaurant company, we made a list of all the stakeholders that we cared about, and committed, in writing, to find a balanced way to define success (and value) to include caring about the impacts and outcomes through the eyes of each stakeholder. We included the planet, the community, farmers (of course), investors, and a few more. This commitment, memorialized in a document we call our Farm Constitution, has guided us for over a decade and has been remarkable in its resiliency. It is the filter through we pull our decisions – how we create a hiring process, how we decided what we buy, how we decide our employee benefits, and it is crystal clear with the final words in the document: everything is personal, everything matters.
Is there a significant professional challenge that Conscious Capitalism has helped you overcome?
March 16th , 2020. We were faced with the shutdown of our restaurants; overnight we lost 95% of our revenue, and we knew we had no choice but to lay off 95% of our employees. We asked ourselves how can we honor our commitments to all our stakeholders, yet everyone is losing their job? We made the decision to provide free food to every employee and their families until such time as they came back to work or the company ceased to exist. We were burning cash, facing a Pandemic, scared, and yet this CC-centric approach guided us to care for all the stakeholders, invest (money we didn’t have) into the culture, and it is one of several actions that I believe helped us get where we are now, which is 15 months later, everyone re-hired who wants to be, and the company cranking up.
Why should others join the movement?
If long-term profit and great ROI is a goal, this is the way to create a ton of value. If sleeping well at night knowing there’s a way to win for all stakeholders sounds enticing, that’s another reason to join the movement. If building your network with people who are inspired to help others along this journey, that’s another reason to join the movement. If getting exposed to learning opportunities is of interest to you, that’s a reason to join. If being on the right side of history and helping evolve capitalism to become Conscious Capitalism, sounds like a worthwhile cause, that’s a reason to join. There are countless ways in which Conscious Capitalism fuels me and I think that they’re universal in value.
For someone trying to become a more conscious leader, what is one piece of advice you would give them?
Seek out role models who work in your space who are doing things and getting results that you admire. Get close enough to those role models so you can learn from them with two-way dialogue. Reading and listening to self-help intel is good, but nothing beats listening AND being listened to.