The founder of a company with US$1 billion in sales uses monthly dinners with new employees to gain a competitive edge

Jim McCann 1-800-Flowers1-800-Flowers1-800-Flowers founder and chairman Jim McCann.

Jim McCann started with a single flower shop in 1976.

He turned it into a business with US$1.2 billion in sales last year and a market capitalisation of around US$600 million.

McCann is the founder and chairman of 1-800-Flowers, and even though he’s been in the flower-ordering business for 40 years, the industry has changed rapidly over the past two decades.

McCann, who self-deprecatingly calls himself a “broken down old guy,” has used his younger employees as a way to remain competitive, and it’s through a fun ritual that’s also beneficial to them, he explained to Business Insider.

Every month — with a few exceptions during the holiday season — McCann will meet with 15 employees at a restaurant near 1-800-Flowers’ Long Island headquarters for a “What’s Up Dinner.” Each dinner has a specific topic of conversation (a recent one focused on the use of chat bots) and McCann has a few managers select the employees who will attend, bringing a couple veteran employees along with the group of recent hires. “That’s a good way to keep a thumb on the pulse,” McCann said.

He gave an example of a dinner around 10 years ago where an employee who had been working at 1-800-Flowers for just three weeks insisted that McCann take Facebook more seriously. McCann set aside his scepticism and listened, he said, and 1-800-Flowers was an early adopter of creating a corporate page on Facebook. Its page now has nearly 1 million likes.

McCann said, laughing, that the ratio of what he learns compared to what his employees learn in these dinners is 90-10.

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