Gender is just a word at Subway. At the world’s largest restaurant company, men and women have an equal seat at the table.
It’s no surprise the company is headed up by a woman, Suzanne Greco, but she’s not here because she’s female, or through nepotism. Greco got here through hard work. It was her brother, Fred DeLuca, who started Subway at the age of 17 in 1965 with $1,000, and grew it into the major franchising company it is today. And he didn’t cut his sister any slack. “He was pretty tough on me; he didn’t want people to think I got any special privileges … and he always made sure I worked hard for what I got,” Greco says.
Since Fred DeLuca’s death in 2015, Suzanne has led the brand, which has nearly 44,000 restaurants in 112 countries, and many women in leadership roles. Greco says employing women at the top is not an effort to be politically correct, or even to offer women a chance in an industry where executive roles can be hard to come by. One where, according to the American Association of University Women, it could take until 2119 for the country to close the gender pay gap. In the U.S. women are paid an average of 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. In a recent McKinsey & Company report on women in the foodservice industry, the percentage of women at the executive level clocked in at just 23 percent.
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“I think it’s about the diverse thinking women bring to the table,” Greco says. “We don’t want to exclude half the population in our thinking. The viewpoints men bring are valid and so are the viewpoints women bring, and having that balance is very important. When you get a variety of input you are able to spur more creativity—everybody’s not sitting around the table agreeing with one another.”
Old hat thinking
This way of thinking is nothing new for Subway. “We’ve been like this for so long that sometimes you forget other brands don’t recognize women’s contributions or that in the international market women are just starting to get traction into the business world and there are fewer of them in leadership roles,” Greco says.
Another trailblazing woman leader for Subway is Carissa Ganelli, who has been the chief digital officer since last July. She was promoted from her role as vice president of marketing technology, where she played a critical part in evolving the brand across digital channels. Before, Ganelli was the CEO and founder of LightningBuy, a mobile commerce platform that converts mobile traffic to revenue, and held several digital marketing and strategy positions with top companies such as Digitas, enews.com, and Coopers & Lybrand Consulting. “When I joined Subway [in 2016] I couldn’t believe the number of women in senior positions,” she says. “This company is entrepreneurial and it’s about the people who have the most drive, the most spirit, and there’s also some luck, but gender is the least of it.”
Ganelli grew up as a golden child in her family—the first girl of six, blonde haired in a family of dark Italians, and encouraged by her parents that she could do anything. Education came easily to her, too, so once she started her career, “I didn’t have to struggle more because I didn’t know I would have to,” she says. “I would chalk my success up to obtuseness, maybe. I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to do these things.”
Martha Jordan, a director of operations and Subway franchisee with 65 restaurants, started with the chain in 1986 as a sandwich artist “and worked my way up to management very quickly.”
From there, she says, she “used the knowledge and training I learned from working in the restaurant to assist Subway franchisees with any questions.” Being female had nothing to do with her career progression, she says. “It was my hard work and dedication that got me to where I am today. Starting at the bottom and working my way up, learning everything I could along the way.”