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Welcome to the WISE newsletter, a program of
The Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University

Thursday, April 12, 2007

WISE2007: Susan Lacz

The first speaker was Susan Lacz, CEO of Ridgewells Catering in Washington, D.C. She began by talking about her mother and early family life. She was brought up with a strong work ethic. She worked in high school and seemed to work around food.

She went to college in Virginia and received a bachelor’s degree in marketing. In college she worked in a bar (still selling, still marketing). After college, she sold microcomputers.

She spoke about her family and calls “home” her second shift. As women, we work, then go home to work.

She started at Ridgewells in 1986. She actually applied to the company in 1985, but was told she didn’t have the right experience. When she was finally hired, she reached her goal in three months. The next year, her goal was more than one million in sales and met that.

She eventually moved into the director of major events. She got the contract for the U.S. Golf Association and they still have the contract.

Then she talked about how she came to purchase the company, which grew out of a failed deal, and the realization that she could turn the company into a truly profitable venture.

She purchased the company in May 1997 with funding from a venture capitalist ($12.4 million in revenue at the time). The sons of the original owners (Ridgewell) sold the company in 1984, but are still involved. Lacz calls on them for advice. (BTW the company has been in existence for more than 75 years.)

In 1997, she had a web site built and did exciting things to reposition the company.

Where are they today? Now over $30 million in revenue.

  • Ÿ Corporate
  • Ÿ Social
  • Ÿ Major events
  • Ÿ Quick-n-Haute® ($5.2 million in revenues)

Takes their led from the fashion industry (in color, etc.). Update menus, etc, twice a year. They don’t stand still. They are high-end – boutique – caterers.

They are now the caterers for FedEx field (Redskins football, etc.). They now do Super Bowl Sunday for the NFL (hospitality). They’ve done that for three years.

2002 created Haute on the Hill by Ridgewells. They have an exclusive contract with House of Representatives and now will be doing the Pentagon. In 2006, more than $6 million in revenue. And a new contract will be more than $11 million in revenue.

How did they get to $40 million dollars? $1.1 million on advertising. Wonderful advertising. Very, very professional. She does her own PR. She is very active in Washington. She is out there and visible, even does a lot of charity work. She noted that charity work gets her “access.” She is now part of the Young Presidents Organization (she‘s 46 years old).

One of the volunteer efforts she does is Camp CEO, an event done by the Girl Scouts.

Top 10 List – Advice for us: (These are in reverse order…)

  • Have faith, believe in something
  • Ÿ Eat dinner with your family as often as possible
  • Ÿ Have the courage to do what feels right
  • Ÿ Have passion, then follow your passion
  • Ÿ Surround yourself with smart people
  • Ÿ Let go, know how to delegate
  • Ÿ Take risks
  • Ÿ Never lose your own identity
  • Ÿ Give back, give often, give always
  • Ÿ Think big

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