Postcard from the Women's Foodservice Forum Conference
Robyn Benincasa - photo by L. Kerr
Once in a while, a speaker just captivates you and you can’t stop thinking about her message. Robyn Benincasa was that speaker for me this week during the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) annual conference. So rather than ooh and ahh about the wisdom-of-outgoing-chair-Maureen-Hurley/admiration-for-incoming-chair-Carin-Stutz/supportiveness-of-WFF-president-Fritzi-Woods/impressiveness-of-Ivanka-Trump/humor-of-Bertice-Barry/motivation-of-Peter-Sheahan, I’ll focus on Robyn. Robyn embodies the very mission of the WFF; the fact that her session hit the nail on the head was as much an epiphany for me as were the lessons she imparted. I know I risk losing something in translation but will try to do her talk and her spirit justice.
Robyn is a two-time World Champion adventure racer, a term I learned during her talk. She’s spent 15 years participating in races involving extreme physical activities in grueling conditions, and overcome adversity on numerous occasions. She was on Mark Burnett’s Eco-Challenge reality show and has been featured in numerous other extreme athletic events. She lives on the edge, to put it mildly. She is also a San Diego firefighter and has translated her passion into a non-profit, Project Athena. Through her talk, "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Results," Robyn uses her adventure racing experiences to illustrate what it means to really work as a team.
Part of the reason Robin is so captivating is that I am amazed by people like her. For some time, I’ve been fascinated by tales of Everest climbs and the like. I loved Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, and well as its movie, 127 Hours. I am in awe of those who test their limits. My fear threshold is far below what these experiences require, so the vicarious participation is a thrill. Robyn resonated so strongly for me because not only did she let me be a voyeur on her adventures, but she applied the learnings into the very lessons the WFF espouses. And she did so while entertaining a roomful of people, riveting us from the get-go.
The WFF’s mission, as many know, is to elevate women leaders. All WFF programming is geared towards supporting women in leadership positions or striving for such positions. The WFF focuses on a variety of core competencies that enable women to succeed as leaders including risk-taking, tough-mindedness, driving for results, and more. Running my own business, I am certainly in a leadership position. But my development is my responsibility and often, other demands take priority over my own skill-building. Some WFF competencies come naturally to me, and others do not, but it’s the rare seminar that hits home with a message I can readily translate to my business and to my growth areas.
I chose Robyn’s session because team-building has been on my mind lately as Intellaprice grows. As Robyn used her racing experiences to illustrate lessons in teamwork, I began to see my team and my role as captain in a new light. I actually thought of ways I should support my team differently, to all of our benefit. I envisioned what it would look like if I was more motivational a different perspective when coaching team members, or had a more positive spin when offering feedback. As Robyn pointed out, there is a difference between winning and not losing. Lots of speakers can remind us of the nature of good teamwork and connection. Robyn, however, was able to help me think about this very clearly and I can put her teachings to use immediately.
Granted, conducting pricing research and analysis for clients is not the same pressure as say, walking along a death-defying ridge for hundreds of miles or swimming through muddy, leach-infested waters in Borneo. But as my staff can attest, we face our own challenges. Robyn's messages about working for the greater good of the team, checking your ego at the door, and carrying others who need it so that the team finishes and wins are definitely translatable.
If the WFF strives to strengthen our leadership competencies, and team building is a goal for me, then Robyn did more for my personal development in 90 minutes than anyone has in my entire career. She has helped the WFF fulfill its mission, which is quite remarkable. Her session alone would have made this conference worthwhile. That it was accompanied by many other positive aspects of the conference was a bonus.