No matter how big a company may be, when it comes to construction, Jennifer Pecoraro-Striepling says there’s never going to be a handbook for getting things done, as conditions change daily.
“Everyone has this big illusion that working for an established corporation means they have everything figured out,” says Pecoraro-Striepling, vice president of design, construction, and facilities at Papa John’s International. “You don’t get a manual your first day that shows you how to get things done. Especially when you’re a leader starting with a new team.”
Power of the Rolodex
Like Papa Johns signature pizza, “handcrafted” was exactly Pecoraro-Striepling’s starting point 18 months ago. She came to the company after a heavy-hitting career with companies such as Bloomin’ Brands and Kohl’s, thriving in numerous design, construction, and facilities roles. The VP had the rare opportunity to build her Papa Johns team from the bottom up, and she says the relationships she built earlier in her career continue to pay off.
So much of Pecoraro-Striepling’s leadership hearkens back to the six years she spent at Darden Restaurants. As she worked her way up the company, through multiple roles, she learned to listen to the people actually doing the building.
“I remember watching general contractors and architects arguing back and forth, and wondering why the architects weren’t taking the time to listen,” Pecoraro-Striepling remembers. “These are the guys that have to actually build it, and they’re the ones doing it every single day.”
That lesson stuck with Pecoraro-Striepling, and it’s impacted how she leads today. The VP was fresh from a meeting with all of her general contractors, all of her architects, and everyone who has a hand in the building of Papa Johns corporate stores.
“I bring everyone together to get it all out on the table,” Pecoraro-Striepling says. “What do we need to fix with the drawings? What processes do we need to fix? Everyone needs to leave their feelings in the parking lot across the street because that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to get better together.”
While she’s been able to translate her early experience to her current leadership, Pecoraro-Striepling has also rounded out her team at Papa Johns. She’s onboarded trusted colleagues, professionals with whom her relationship dates back a handful of decades.
“As soon as I joined Papa Johns, I knew that I needed to fill out this team,” Pecoraro-Striepling says. “It was nothing that a good Rolodex cannot help with.”
Pecoraro-Striepling led a partnership with Interior Architects and Brasfield & Gorrie to build a new Papa Johns corporate office in Atlanta, and, among other new members, she was joined by a construction manager, design project manager, and architect—all of whom she had collaborated with in the past.
This kind of loyalty is a testament to the leadership Pecoraro-Striepling has displayed throughout her career. It also underscores the importance of maintaining connections and of keeping in touch with colleagues.
Since coming to Papa Johns, Pecoraro-Striepling has built out the company’s Atlanta office, which will now house the commercial; development; operations; people operations; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and communications teams. Meanwhile the remainder of functions will stay in Papa John’s hub in Louisville, Kentucky.
In 2021, Pecoraro-Striepling’s team in partnership with real estate, supply chain, and operations opened 11 corporate store locations in the United States and 200 globally. Building a team, rolling out a company-wide rebrand, and building hundreds of stores seems like a lot for a year and a half, but Pecoraro-Striepling is only looking forward.
“While I’ve been here 18 months, our process isn’t 18 months old yet,” the VP explains. “I’m excited for the full team to get through a full development cycle. We will spend this year continuing to meet the expectations of new store growth and building our team to support that growth.”
As a female leader in construction, Pecoraro-Striepling says she got used to being the only woman in the room a long time ago. It helps that she grew up the eldest of four children with a father who played semipro hockey and then went into construction. “I grew up in the rink,” Pecoraro-Striepling says. “I was skating before I could walk.”
Pecoraro-Striepling says she’s always been able to lean on her stubborn Irish-Italian upbringing and temperament when dealing with a male-dominated industry. But even in 2022, it can still be challenging. “Even today, I found myself thinking, ‘This isn’t 1950,’ in response to a situation on a jobsite,” the VP says. “There are so many great people in this industry, but you also run into the guys who just can’t get with the times. They may have been doing this before I was born, but don’t dismiss my knowledge just because I am a woman.”
Pecoraro-Striepling says that while she’ll never shy away from taking a stand, she still looks to unite as much as she can, no matter who’s in the meeting.
“Don’t get me wrong—I’ll lay down the law,” Pecoraro-Striepling says, laughing. “Women in the construction space need to understand how [some men in the industry are] wired, and how they [women] can best execute with whatever skill set they have.”
Wathco is a general contractor that specializes in remodel, rebrand, conversions, and build-out projects for national chain restaurants through out the USA. Night work, shutdowns, and fast track projects are what we do. We specialize in having traveling crews so we can fine-tune each program. We have been partnering with restaurants since 1996 and have completed over 5,000 projects nation wide. Visit wathco.com.