Spreading Cheer with Michael Fleming and Ana Bidoglio

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Michael Fleming, CEO, Parlour Enterprises or better known as Farrell’s and Ana Bidoglio, Career Consultant at Lee Hecht Harrison. To hear the entire show, click here. On the show today, we have two executives who believe in bringing joy in people’s lives – one through delicious ice cream sundaes and really caring about his employees and the other through coaching and being a good listener.


Michael Flemingemployees

Michael Fleming started his career as a law enforcement officer with the LAPD. After a year he got into business with his brother and they were into operating, owning and developing family entertainment centers which eventually led to Farrell’s. He felt like something was missing at his centers and that’s when he thought of Farrell’s. He remembered going to those restaurants as a kid and was wondering whatever happened to them. He did some research and decided to bring back the concept to life. He put together a team along with his partner Paul Kramer who is currently the President of the company. They opened their first store in Mission Viejo in 2009. The company now has expanded to six stores in California and one in Hawaii.

Initial Challenges

Fleming says they were lucky to find financing early on because one of the investors contacted them after he read about their plans to bring back Farrell’s in one of the Orange county newspapers. Another thing that worked in their favor was the fact that people who had been around when Farrell’s was a great franchise had great memories attached to the brand. Also, there were about 130 restaurants nationwide which made it very popular as well. “It’s very Disneyland-ish if that’s a word,” laughs Fleming. “We’ve kept the concept identical to what Bob Farrell had when he started the Farrell’s because we wanted people to come back and experience what they had experienced 20-30 years ago. That’s a difficult thing to do because today the marketplace has changed, tastes have changed but we’ve been very fortunate because for most part we’ve hit it on the head,” he explains.

Another interesting challenge that they have is the fact that the restaurant has the 1900’s feel. It takes you back in time with its interiors. With the entertainment culture that they have, it is extremely important to find cheerful servers who keep up the happy atmosphere of the restaurant. The challenge lies in finding the right kind of people to do the job. “They’re almost like Disney employees. I am often asked how do you find people with these personalities,” says Fleming. They have a process in place that makes sure they find people whose personalities fit the restaurant’s culture.

Strategic Moves

Fleming reveals that they opened up the first few units of the franchise fairly quickly. Last year they decided to take a breather and take some time off to concentrate on things like branding and identify current issues. They surveyed almost 72,000 people to find out what were the biggest problems people had with their Farrell’s experience. One of the problems was the long waiting lines at each store. They needed to find a way to get people in the building faster. To resolve this issue they came up with a system through a company called Rescue that enabled them to book online reservations. It’s a pretty accurate system and has worked well for them. However, people still have this perception of long waiting lines at Farrell’s. The company is trying hard to change this but it’s been a problem to get some of these people back to the restaurant.

The second issue that was highlighted through the survey was that a lot of people thought of Farrell’s as just a place to celebrate birthdays. “But that’s not what we are. We are there to celebrate life events and not just birthdays. So our current ad campaign says right on the top ‘What are you celebrating – good grades, anniversaries, moving, last tooth, team win, military enlistment, job promotion, new girlfriend?’ We even do potty training. It’s actually one of the biggest things we celebrate,” jokes Fleming. The whole point is that there are so many things you can celebrate apart from birthdays. The fun part is that they have songs for every occasion and the cast (that’s what they call their employees!) have to memorize these songs.


“It’s all about loving people,” says Fleming when it comes to the kind of people they hire as servers. Farrell’s culture goes back fifty years with Bob Farrell who was a motivational speaker and whose videos are shown to employees at Nordstrom and In-N-Out Burgers even today. The managers and supervisors at Farrell’s are required to read “Chess Not Checkers” by Mark Miller because it coaches people on how to be a good leader. It is important for the employees to feel that the management cares about them. They are also encouraged to reach out to the management to voice their concerns. Culture is not taken lightly at Farrell’s. It’s not just a handbook passed on to everyone. Fleming and his team meet up with all the GMs at least once a month and they also meet with every single manager in the company once in every six to seven weeks. Fleming greatly emphasizes that everyone needs to feel loved in his company and that is done by paying attention and by genuinely caring and he believes in leading by example. The company is planning its growth and franchising is one of the options. But Fleming wants to make sure they do it right so that the culture remains intact.

Employee Engagement

The company organizes many games and fun events where employees are required to interact with each other. They also have an internal magazine that updates everyone on what’s going on at different locations. Annual parties and events are organized at an external venue so that employees can see each other in a different light. Other than this, it is every manager’s job to take good care of his subordinates and address their problems immediately and make sure they enjoy their work.

What Are You Reading?

Michael Fleming highly recommends “What On Earth Am I Here For” by Rick Warren which is about finding your purpose in life. As mentioned earlier, he loves “Chess Not Checkers” by Mark Miller. He also recommends “Behind the Archesby John Love which talks about McDonald’s success story.

Ana Bidoglioemployees

Ana Bidoglio had been in the legal profession for about twenty years and in the past eight years she has been a career consultant in the academic space (especially law schools), her current role being that of a Bilingual Associate Career Consultant at Lee Hecht Harrison. She coaches people on things like networking, working on an elevator speech, developing negotiation skills, cracking a job interview and so on.

The most rewarding part of Bidoglio’s job is to be able to help people with their careers and to see the transformation they go through over the course of her training. To see her students grow and come back to her and tell their stories is very satisfying. While the challenging part of her job is the emotional aspect that comes along when companies are downsizing and bring Bidoglio’s firm to help people who lost their jobs. People are low on morale and it is Bidoglio’s job to train them and empower them with skills that would help them get a new job.

How Does She Do Her job?

Bidoglio is a trusted partner to the people she works with. She helps them get jobs they really want. She brings in a lot empathy and also makes herself very approachable. She uses her own personal story to explain them that everyone has hurdles but you need to learn to move ahead. But one thing she’s very clear about is that it’s a 50-50 partnership. She can’t do her job if the person she is helping shows no inclination towards learning.

She loves how every person she works with has a different story and has something unique to offer. She is fascinated by everyone’s life journey. Though she loves working in groups because everyone brings different things to the table and she loves exploring that and helping them achieve a common goal. Some people are very apprehensive at the beginning of her training sessions and most likely end up attending because their manager has forced them to. But once they sit through the first session they undergo a complete transformation and all their apprehensions vanish.

Bidoglio has a warm side to her personality when it comes to her job. If she knows one of her students has an interview, she’ll make sure to mark the interview time on her calendar and she’ll send happy thoughts for them. Her job has also trained her to be good at keeping secrets. People confide in her with all sorts of things and she assures them that their secret is safe with her and that she is there to help. Her many years of experience in the legal profession and with law schools have certainly prepared her for this job. She attributes her excellent listening skills to her experience working in law firms. Analytical thinking also comes from her past experience which comes in handy while helping candidates review a job offer.

What to Look for in a Coach?

For people considering hiring a coach, Bidoglio’s advice is that they should really think about what they want to get out of it. Also, a little research on what’s going on in the market and what exactly they’d like to invest their energies in is something they should do. For instance, someone who’s been in a job for twenty five years and suddenly finds himself out in the market should first ask questions like ‘do I want to do the same job’ or ‘I am close to retirement so should I just get into consulting’ and so on. “A coach has to be someone who’ll be able to answer these questions and who’ll be able to guide and mentor you. We need someone in our life who’ll be able to mentor us and give us a refresher or point us towards new things that we don’t think about,” she says. There are plenty of things to think about when there is a career change taking place such as geographical considerations, financial planning and deciding whether it’s the right path. It can be quite daunting to do it all alone. People tend to get into what she calls the ‘ostrich mode’ where they think that they’ll bury their head in the ground and the problem will go away. But the truth is that problems don’t just go away and it’s always good to have someone you can trust to guide you along the way.

What Are You Reading?

Ana Bidoglio is currently reading “Dearieby Bob Spitz which is Julia Child’s biography. The book talks about how Child discovered her interest in cooking very late in life and how she made that career change and accomplished her goal of writing a cookbook and eventually appearing on TV at a time when technology was not as advanced as it is today.