THE BLOG

Women in Business: Q&A With Kate Atwood, Executive Director of Arby's Foundation

10/21/2013 01:53 pm 13:53:40 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Kate Atwood, executive director of the Arby's Foundation, was recently selected as one of the GOOD Magazine's GOOD 100, which honors 100 incredible people moving the world forward through "doing." Kate joined the Arby's Foundation in 2011 as part of an overall strategic change for the Foundation's mission centered on ending childhood hunger in America.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My mom died when I was 12-years-old, so I got the message early that life is short and you create dreams not to just carry them around, but to make them happen. At its core, leadership is about the passion and perseverance of those dreams. People are ultimately seeking purpose, so if you can deliver on that as a leader, you can deliver a successful pursuit of happiness.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's an everyday effort. In my 20s I really failed at this notion of balance. Now, in my 30s I am much more aware of the importance of boundaries and identity in both your work life and your personal life. I do think you can have it all, but you can't have it all at once. It takes great practice in patience and pace.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as Executive Director of Arby's Foundation?
I joined the Arby's Foundation two years ago as part of an overall strategic change for the Foundation's mission, one now centered on ending childhood hunger in America. I found the opportunity at the Arby's Foundation intriguing because of the bold mission they were taking on and the opportunity to start a movement amongst our employees and franchisees to make a difference for millions of kids. A huge challenge around childhood hunger in America is the lack of awareness that 16 million kids in our nation struggle with hunger. Most Americans don't know what this looks like nor what it means for the future of our nation. Arby's is playing a huge role, not just by raising funds but also raising awareness. Our people are passionate about making a difference and this mission really resonates with our consumers as well. It's tremendous to see us come together in our communities.

Beyond our passion, I am most proud of the action Arby's took at the very beginning to change its kids menu to be healthy and wholesome. If we want to change the world, I truly believe we must first look at ourselves and make sure we are furthering the change we wish to see. The action that Arby's took to change its kids menu to be healthy was an early indicator of how serious the brand was about making a big impact on this issue.

What is the best thing about working as Executive Director of Arby's Foundation?
The best thing about working at the Arby's Foundation is that I get the opportunity every day to be a catalyst for individuals, be it our employees, franchisees or our consumers, to make a difference. I have had the great fortune to witness first-hand how giving back to others can fuel your soul. My responsibility at Arby's is to make sure every person we touch inside and outside of our restaurants has the chance to experience that joyous feeling of making a difference. It really drives everyone forward and will ultimately lead to a better world.

How can individuals in communities across America work with Arby's to actively tackle childhood hunger?
Right now, individuals can support the Arby's Foundation by taking a virtual pledge to support our efforts to end childhood hunger or by making a donation online at arbysfoundation.org. You can also enjoy dining at Arby's and make a difference during September. From August 19 through September 29, we invite everyone to visit their local Arby's and make a $1 donation to the Arby's Foundation and join us in the fight to end childhood hunger in America. You'll even get two coupons as a thank you for your donation; it's a win-win.

What are your hopes for the future of Arby's Foundation?
My biggest hope for the Arby's Foundation is that by working together with our employees, our customers, our franchisees and our community partners, we can see a day where kids in our nation have access to three wholesome meals a day, every day of the year. As a Foundation we are committed to impact and innovation. Our nation faces some of the biggest challenges of its time. I know the Arby's Foundation can't be all things to everyone, but I do know with focus, passion and perseverance we can help improve the lives of millions of kids who all deserve to have access to the meals they need to learn, play longer and grow stronger.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Support for each other. I am where I am today because I have had remarkable support from mentors and women in the workplace. There is nothing more empowering than someone of senior rank believing in you and encouraging you. I have always gravitated towards these types of women in my career and it is a huge reason for my success. Women need to feel empowered by each other, not pitted against each other. That is my biggest hope for all of us in the workplace.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Any positive movement inspires me, so I think what Sheryl Sandberg has created is amazing. It is speaking to a lot of women out there and that empowerment can only help us across the board. Her intent in writing the book was to empower women and I just hope Sheryl Sandberg herself feels empowered by all the women who are listening and taking action because of her words and her wisdom.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has made a huge difference in my life. As I mentioned, I lost my mom when I was 12-years-old and it was the most devastating blow to me as a young girl. However, a gift that has come from losing my mom is the patchwork of women I have surrounded myself with ever since to help me grow and pursue all my dreams in work and in life.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire women who have pioneered industries and disrupted the status-quo along the way. I have several whom I admire, one being Hala Moddelmog, Interim CEO, Women's Foodservice Forum. She has a killer work ethic, matched with the upmost integrity and grace; it's aspirational for me and I am sure many young professionals.