David Corsun and Denny Marie Post

Red Robin CEO Denny Marie Post told the crowd at Voices of Experience March 18 that resilience is the key to a successful career and life.

“No matter what you’re facing—finals week, job loss, addiction, divorce, a bad quarter—face the facts, stay strong and grow from it. You will always achieve more than you ever dreamed of … it might be a life full of joy and you will speak to a bunch of people in velvet seats,” she joked, referencing the plush theater chairs inside Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center for Performing Arts.

Post began the evening sharing about her journey, moving numerous times growing up with her father in the army. She worked in college as a cocktail waitress and bartender to pay for personal expenses, while she majored in journalism at Trinity College. She had hopes of being a renowned journalist until she realized it paid less than waitressing. So, she got her first job in advertising instead.

She expressed how that first job was really foundational for her, giving her a grounding that propelled her through her career. She would go on to become the senior vice president and chief marketing officer at T-Mobile USA; the senior vice president of Global Beverage, Food and Quality for Starbucks Corporation; and the senior vice president and chief concept officer for Burger King. Post has also held several management positions at YUM! Brands, Inc.,  leading marketing and menu development for KFC USA, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell Canada.

“I’m the sum total of my experiences,” she said. “Completely unique and completely unpredictable.”

Post explained that much of her success was recognizing that she was really good at something.

“My unique core competency is innovation, being highly strategic. I take anything and make it a little bit more than what it was,” she explained. “I was willing to take risks.”

Post admitted that some of her risks did not turn out well. But she was persistent and bounced back. She stressed to the audience that resiliency is a skill that can be learned. She learned much of it from her mother who survived when the Nazis raided Poland, was arrested and imprisoned for working in the Polish underground. Her mother ended up moving to America, moving 19 times for her husband’s career, only for him to leave her after 31 years of marriage.

Post said her mother didn’t collapse, instead, she went on to college and completed two degrees at 65 years of age.

She emphasized that her mother was resilient and we can learn it too by following these three lessons:

1) Always face the facts. Accept them and move forward.

2) Stay strong. Find a network of people who lift you up.

3) Adopt a growth mindset.

Post emphasized that the third point is the most critical. Instead of accepting defeat, thinking we are not capable, we need to believe that we just haven’t learned that skill yet and we are always capable of growing and learning.

After Post addressed the audience, she sat down with David Corsun, director of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, to talk about the restaurant industry. The two discussed the challenges facing the industry: fewer people eating out and the difficulties of talent acquisition.

Post shared that Red Robin starts out with a strong pipeline of women in the industry. But, it can be challenging to keep them when they move from management to multiple-unit management. The organization tries to encourage flexibility for men and women, so family can be a priority too.

In Corsun’s closing question, he asked for Post to give advice to the students going into hospitality. She urged women to give voice to what they want to accomplish and for everyone to be flexible about how they achieve their goal.

“Please, please be flexible, not linear about how you’re going to get there. True leaders have an understanding of what they’re good and not good at.,” Post said. “Know what you’re really good at and don’t try to be all these other things.”

The Voices of Experience speaker series is hosted by the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. VOE brings CEOs and significant leaders into the DU community to share the lessons learned from their triumphs, mistakes and decisions as they navigated through their leadership careers.

The next speaker is April 9 with Rhys Duggan, CEO of Revesco Properties. To register or learn more, visit the VOE website. Daniels thanks US Bank, Zayo and Newmont Mining for sponsoring the series.