Interview with Gregg Imamoto, CEO at Pieology

April 10, 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.
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 relaunch a premium crust strategy, by adding two crusts on our menu. In particular, what's giving us the best of indulgence is our new deep-dish crust, where we took inspiration from Detroit type deep-dish pizzas that are made in Michigan.

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 consumers are those looking for something that's more indulgent, where they're going to put more toppings on their pizza. The second type is somebody who's looking for a different health line that's a little bit more vegetarian.

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 new menu strategy and also our speed to introduce new products to market. 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 splash, a big education for folks because largely the vegan community clearly understands what a plant-based protein is.

For all the other consumers that are coming to Pieology they may not really understand what exactly a plant-based protein is so we have to go out in a completely different way in terms of marketing education. First, we got big influencers from the vegan community and from the pizza community and used visual demonstrations of what a plant-based protein is. To do that we used a chia pet, a little caricature planting device in which you spread some seeds on to grow vegetables.

To illustrate what a plant-based protein is, we used these cut-outs of a chicken, a cow and a pig and then we grew plants on the outside of it, and this was a great visual demonstration for our consumers.
I'm a learner leader.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Gregg: I'm a learner leader. I ask a lot of questions and I enjoy listening to perspectives and I'd like to take all of that in but at the same time. I also recognize my responsibility is to lead the organization. My team knows I'll go ahead to face the danger and those challenges and if there are accolades and success to be awarded I'll always be in the back shepherding my team.

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, but the main thing we really want is to make a connection with your guests and that's going to be something that's memorable.
The biggest challenge is making sure that people who are coming to your brand understands 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. The biggest challenge is making sure that people who are coming to your brand understands that you are more than just a paycheck. With minimum wage and certain things already 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 hourly job I had for quite some time was in the grocery industry. One of the things that I was doing there was working for a union based company. It was not only just the dynamic of working in an hourly position but also just not having control over a lot of what I could earn and maybe even the number of hours I would be allotted.

That particular job along with working in a sandwich shop and being a painter and a landscaper made me have an appreciation for the challenges associated with being an hourly worker.
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