Interview with Gregg Imamoto, CEO at Pieology

April 23, 2019
Mr. Imamoto is a high energy, values-based leader that has transformed companies and cultures in the Consumer Products, Food & Beverage, Entertainment, Healthcare, Technology, Aerospace, Not For Profit and Financial Services industries. Over the past 25 years, he has successfully turned around businesses for distressed to start-up and growth phase companies while securing ample funding to build globally recognized brands. Mr. Imamoto is a C-Suite, hands-on global operator, experienced in leading and developing teams in multiple countries while executing strategic plans with operating budgets exceeding $100 million.

Currently, Mr. Imamoto is the CEO for Pieology, a fast casual pizza company with ~150 corporate and franchise locations globally. He is also the CEO and Founder of ONO Solutions, a business consulting firm specializing in strategy development and distressed turnarounds.

Prior to his current duties, he was the COO for PatientSafe Solutions, where he transformed a near bankrupt, no revenue healthcare IT re-start into a revolutionary mobile clinical solution that within one year sold $22 million in hospital contracts, closed $30 million in fresh capital, and launched the world's first smart device designed for direct patient care. While successfully negotiating a business relationship with Apple to use their technologies, the Company under Mr. Imamoto's leadership was named one of the Wall Street Journal's Top 50 Venture-Backed Companies.

Prior to PatientSafe Solutions, Mr. Imamoto worked at Highland Capital Management, L.P., a $14 billion AUM industry leading alternative debt financial services firm, where he was responsible for leading the Private Equity strategy initiatives within the healthcare and consumer products platforms.

Mr. Imamoto received a Bachelor's degree in Economics/Business from the University of California at Los Angeles and is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of California.
Bringing things to market very quickly doesn't necessarily come without failure or some challenges, but for our brand, we want to be viewed as the innovators in this space.

We have to take some risks and we have to try new things to be able to bring products to market at a speed that maybe even the consumer is not expecting.
Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of since you start working on the PIEOLOGY project?

Gregg : One of the things that we're most proud of, especially in the last year is not only the speed to market in which we've introduced new products, but it's also the fact that we brought innovative products which have revamped our menu.

One of the things that we did was to launch a premium crust strategy that added two new crusts to our menu. Focusing on the best of indulgence and the best of health, we launched our new deep-dish crust, where we took inspiration from the very popular Detroit type deep-dish pizzas. The second one that we introduced is the cauliflower crust, which provides a healthier option. With these two premium crusts, we are speaking with two diverse sets of consumers.

The first type of consumer are those looking for something different and a bit more indulgent and robust. The second type of consumer is somebody who's looking for something that's health focused with a unique flavor profile.

Q: What are the superpowers of your team?

Gregg: Historically within the food industry, a lot of products or the ideation process to bring a product to market could take anywhere between 12 to 18 months. One of the new superpowers of our team is our ability to introduce new products to market at a much faster pace. Our sweet spot target is about six months. Bringing things to market very quickly doesn't necessarily come without failure or some challenges, but for our brand, we want to be viewed as the innovators in this space. We have to take some risks and we have to try new things to be able to bring products to market at a speed that maybe even the consumer is not expecting.

Recently we launched our plant-based proteins and to do that right we needed to make a big impact, and educate consumers unfamiliar with these on-trend proteins. The vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian communities all clearly understand what plant-based proteins are, but to the everyday pizza lover, these are new to the space.

We leveraged big influencers from the vegan community and from the broader pizza and food community and used visual demonstrations of what plant-based proteins include. Visually, and something that went viral was our use of topiaries, similar to a giant chia pet, in the shape of a chicken, a cow, and a pig, representing our three new plant-based proteins of chicken, meatballs and spicy sausage.
I'm a learner leader.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Gregg: I'm a learner leader that enjoys solving problems I ask a lot of questions and I listen to the different perspectives to better educate me on a situation or circumstances. In the spirit of servant leadership, in situations of uncertainty, I lead from the front, but my preference is to allow the team to push themselves and I will shepherd from the rear when necessary.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you will give someone running a restaurant?

Gregg: I think the advice I'd give is that it's really important to engage the guests. We know it's important to move them quickly through the line, and it's important to get the order right and make great food, but the main thing we really want is to make a connection with the guest and that's going to be something that's memorable.
The biggest challenge is making sure that people who are coming to your brand understand that you are more than just a paycheck.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?

Gregg: I think there are a lot of challenges for all of us that are out there trying to hire talent. The biggest challenge is making sure that people who are coming to your brand understand that you are more than just a paycheck.

With minimum wage and other costs going up across the country, it's very easy for labor to be portable and to move from brand to brand. If the employees don't understand what you stand for, and if they don't really see the opportunities that you can give them, then they're not necessarily going to be as loyal or as interested in staying with you over a longer period of time. In the workforce right now everybody's transient and people are jumping from job to job to make a little bit of extra money.

Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience.

Gregg: Probably my last and my longest tenured hourly job I had was in the grocery industry. This was also my first experience working in a union environment. You had little to no control over your hours and everyone was compensated by the same tenure based wage system. It made it very difficult to earn more money and that dynamic acted as a disincentive for many workers to put in extra effort.

Working in that particular job, while also working in a sandwich shop, painting homes and, where my compensation was driven by how hard I worked, made me have an appreciation for the challenges associated with being an hourly worker and the importance of looking for positions that would reward you based on your own performance.
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