Irene Cook

This entry is part 12 of 77 in the series

Irene Cook of Panera, LLCIrene Cook

Panera, LLC
Senior Vice President, Retail Operations & Joint Venture Operations

Years with company: 10 years

Education degrees and professional/volunteer organizations: MBA from Suffolk University, Women’s Food Service Network, RFK for Children, Adopt a Student

Mentors and how have they assisted you in your career: Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to work with Bill Gagnon.  He was the toughest, but he taught me so much about myself and human capacity. No matter what you do, do it with a perspective of whether or not you will have pride in the end result. Choose to be excellent in what you do, as your work is a reflection of your expectations of others. He was also famous for stretching me to go beyond where I thought it was possible. You don’t know where you can be or how far you can go with an assignment unless you look beyond today into a future of possibility.

Charlie Cocotas was also a role model that influenced me. He is one of the most gregarious people I know, He would light up a room when he walked in. He wouldn’t get down to business until he said hello personally to everyone. Connecting with people first, then things second has been a valuable lesson. This is a business of relationships – with each other and our customers.  Trust and relationships are invaluable.

What are you most proud of in your career achievements?  Do you have a defining moment of your career to date?  I am most proud of the teams I have worked with and having the honor to lead them.  My greatest pride is seeing a team come together and become stronger than the sum. Each time I have been part of a team like this we have faced challenges, and excelled beyond the challenge.

A defining moment for me is when people say “thank you” for making a difference in their lives!  To me, the small moments are the ones that fill me up and re-energize me.

Most challenging part of your job: For me, the most challenging part of my job is time.  The limited resource of time and the decisions that go along where you invest it, and where you can’t, is a challenge.  

Advice for upcoming young executives: My advice would be you are where you are because of the choices you make.  Choose for the long-term, not the short-term.  As painful as choices can be, make choices for what you stand for.  Your choices in your business and career have to align with whom you choose to be as a person.  Every action you do defines who you are, for the people who are watching you and growing from you.  How you choose to think about something will define your behavior and actions.  

Hobbies: My hobbies are outdoor activities biking, walking on the beach, boating, reading and spending time with our family and friends.