ITW Retreat Talks Essentialism

Seventeen of FEDA’s Young Industry Leaders (YIL) met in the Chicago suburbs in December for the group’s second retreat. The event, which was hosted by Mihyar Mohamed, vice president and general manager of ITW’s North American Cooking Division, focused on how attendees could be more selective about their professional commitments to make a stronger impact at their companies, a concept called Essentialism.

Mohamed led discussions on how YIL members could put the tenets of Essentialism into practice in both their careers and personal lives. Additionally, the program included an overview of ITW’s operations from Lei Schlitz, executive vice president of ITW’s food equipment segment, and tours of the ITW Innovation Center and the ITW FEG Kitchen, which showcased the latest ITW food equipment in a modern kitchen setting.

Before the event began, Mohamed assigned some homework to get YIL members thinking about Essentialism. Attendees prepared by reading a chapter from Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” and watching a TED talk-style video presentation by the author. “The reading was very pertinent to each and every one of us, and gave us something to discuss candidly during the entire retreat,” said Travis Lusky, business development manager for Burkett Restaurant Equipment & Supplies. “It gave us all ample opportunities to provide our peers with feedback to help each other be better.”

Following an introductory discussion, attendees participated in two breakout sessions that covered how they can simplify their professional lives. “We all came up with quite a few ways that the concept of Essentialism could help us individually and with our teams, one of which was to focus on what you can do to provide the most impact to our respective companies,” Lusky says.

Many of the attendees shared their own experiences of taking on too many responsibilities and explained the pressure they felt to continually add to their to-do piles. “We do want to chase the high,” explained Adam Deutschmann, general manager for Bargreen Ellingson. “We want to say yes even if it’s not what we should do.”

YIL members agreed that Essentialism would help them excel in their careers, but understood it would take time to test the concept within their companies. To make it work, they discussed how to set clear expectations, get buy-in from their teams and bosses, and develop a litmus test for determining where they should devote their energy. On that last point, Mohamed shared with the group how ITW has used Essentialism and 80/20 thinking to guide its decision making within its seven business segments, including food equipment. “The way we think about it [at ITW] is there are external factors, but you really have to spend a lot of time on the internal,” Mohamed says. “What are you good at? What can you get good at in the next two to three years?”

At the end of the retreat, YIL members were energized and ready to take the ideas back to their companies. Several also expressed interest in attending future YIL retreats, which are still being planned. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect,” Lusky said. “I didn’t know how much was going to be focused on just the book or learning about our host, ITW, but I feel the YIL Steering Committee did an outstanding job of properly catering the agenda for the best possible takeaway for all of the guests.”