Foodservice Is a Path to Prosperity, Says Condoleezza Rice

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2018 National Restaurant Association Show

Foodservice Is a Path to Prosperity, Says Condoleezza Rice

By Angela Hanson - 05/21/2018
Signature '18 speaker Condoleeza Rice
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the Signature '18 session of the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show.

CHICAGO — Working in a restaurant may be very different from working on Capitol Hill, but a career in foodservice has more in common with the needs of the United States than is immediately obvious, according to Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and keynote speaker at the 2018 National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show, which kicked off May 19.

Rice looked back to the days after World War II, when countries set aside the idea of a zero-sum game in favor of an international economy where everyone could grow, with two key elements: free markets and free people.

By building democracies and stability in the countries that were vanquished in the war instead of punishing them, there was increased prosperity, according to Rice. For the U.S., however, everything changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the country first grappled with outside threats from ungoverned spaces as the biggest security threats.

Since then, the international community has seen "great powers behaving badly," which makes the post-World War II accomplishments vulnerable and gives rise to what Rice calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse:

  • Populism,
  • Nativismm,
  • Isolationism, and
  • Protectionism.

A key problem is that while globalization worked for many people, it didn't work for everyone, she said. Coal mines in Kentucky and steel mills in Pennsylvania didn't see its benefits, which led to a lack of confidence at home, which makes it harder to be a global leader and capitalize on the most important values of the U.S.

Rice acknowledged that today's international system is uncertain and feels dangerous, as the world faces a number of crises that are more than just isolated incidents.

"We're seeing the erosion and breakdown of the international system we've come to know the last 70 years," she said. "The tectonic plates under our feet are really shifting."

At this point in history, Rice believes the key to success at home and as a global leader is to focus on the assets currently available that build the country's confidence, including technology and innovation that is "truly remarkable."

Rice noted that while technology itself is neutral, it can be used to make a commitment to human potential. Education is the key to the aspirational belief that in the U.S., it only matters where you're going, not where you're from.

Calling the crisis in getting from kindergarten to grade 12 "the greatest national security crisis we have," she pointed out that education doesn't necessarily mean formalized higher education.

"Not everybody has to go to college," Rice said. "Everyone has to have a job."

The foodservice industry is something that can provide skills, training and a sense of self-worth, not just a paycheck.

While Rice acknowledged that many of the serious problems the country is grappling with are not easily solved, she expressed confidence that the U.S. has the tools to solve them.

"The U.S. has always made the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect," she said. "We're going to do it again."

Prior to Rice's remarks, Jay Stieber, chairman of the National Restaurant Association and executive vice president and general counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, highlighted the many good things that the restaurant industry does for the communities in which it operates, such as supporting local organizations, lending aid in times of disaster, and having a positive impact on the economy.

"We're an industry that thrives on the power of human relationships," Stieber said.

Dawn Sweeney, NRA president and CEO, followed up by pointing out that the restaurant industry is the second-largest private sector employer in the U.S., in which one in 10 working Americans had their first job.

The 2018 National Restaurant Association Show continues through May 22 at Chicago's McCormick Place.