Around the Water Cooler With Panera's CEO

Ron Shaich’s philosophy: A successful business gives as much as it takes.

Ron Shaich’s philosophy: A successful business gives as much as it takes
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[Read: Around the Water Cooler With CVS Caremark's Helena Foulkes.]

Speaking of caring, Panera Cares cafes started a few years ago and offer a menu with suggested prices for people who can't necessarily afford the full amount. Do you recommend this model for other business owners who also want to give back to the community in some way?

I think everybody has to figure out their own model. What I do believe deeply is that we have a profound responsibility to contribute to the communities in which we live. Our purpose is more than just extracting maximum profit. If all we do is focus on how we extract, there's going to be no community left that we're going to be able to benefit from.

More importantly, the way Panera has had phenomenal success, and I think we've had among the best-performing restaurant stock over the past half decade, is I've found that when we focus on making a difference in our guests and the communities in which we operate, the byproduct of that becomes our financial success. So I would argue those people that focus on a sustainable business model – not a business that maximizes short-term, but a sustainable business model that satisfies customers – is actually far more able to generate a better financial return.

If restaurants have a surplus of food at the end of the day, like bagels or pastries, do you have any tips for what managers can do besides throwing them away?

Sure, give them to somebody who's hungry. That's what we do – to the tune of about $100 to $150 million of product a year. The message from Panera Care is: Just imagine a world in which corporations apply their core competencies in many ways to help society.

[Read: Around the Water Cooler With Harley-Davidson's CEO.]

My last question, I'm asking every CEO: What is the best career advice you've ever received?

You know, I've worked for myself almost my entire life and I've never focused on my career. I've focused on making a difference. You're going to laugh, but I've never thought about career advice – I've thought about how to have a career that fulfills my dreams.

Editor's Note: Around the Water Cooler is an ongoing series, in which U.S. News talks with company executives to get their career advice for employees and managers.