Panera Bread's Robert Crumpton: Bringing D&I to 1,600+ Franchises

This former NFL-player is now Panera Bread's first diversity leader—and the company's already rolling out Black and Latino resource groups this year.


There are kids who dream of becoming professional sports stars, others of following in their parents' footsteps, and still others of making a difference. Robert Crumpton made all three a reality.

A defensive back for the NFL's Chicago Bears during the 1995 preseason, Crumpton is now Panera Bread's first diversity leader. He started in January 2012 and already is executing a holistic diversity-management strategy—which will be embedded into the company's 1,625 franchise locations—to build a robust pipeline, improve supplier diversity, and provide the inclusive culture needed to attract and retain diverse talent.

Panera launched its first resource group, a women's network, and appointed its first woman board member last year. The company also will roll out Black and Latino resource groups in 2013. Crumpton says this momentum will help other resource groups get started.

"We're looking to hard-code diversity and inclusion into our business. It's hard, roll-up-your-sleeves work, but you can do it with a smile," says Crumpton. "At the end of the day, it's about our customers and whether we can be the oasis for every group and generation."

Understanding Corporate Diversity

During his diversity-management career, Crumpton has held positions at IBM, Navistar and Monsanto.

Crumpton took his first corporate job in 1997 as part of IBM's rotational HR program. After his football career ended, he was ready for his next opportunity.

"My mind was opened to diversity being broader than EEO," says Crumpton, who soon became IBM's Central Region Diversity Manager. "That's where I got really jazzed!"

Crumpton says it was IBM's work-life programs that really sold him. His mother, Jessie, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, required in-home care, and he gratefully took advantage of IBM's senior-care services. "It gave me more voice and credibility. It gave me empathy for the needs of our employees," he says.

Crumpton left IBM in 2002 to become Navistar's EEO Manager and Head of Diversity. Four years later, he accepted a job as Director, Global Diversity and Inclusion for Monsanto in St. Louis, which allowed him to be closer to his family. "My mom was in long-term nursing care. I didn't want to look back on life, miss out on doing everything I could," he explains.

Finding Family at Panera

Working at Panera was an attractive opportunity, Crumpton says, that also built on his childhood memories of the St. Louis Bread Company, Panera's predecessor. "I remember having lunch with Mom and growing up here. I was familiar with the brand as a user. It was great to finally work for a company that was a business-to-consumer relationship," says Crumpton, who enjoys being able to walk into the store and interact with the associates firsthand.

But it's the brand's community outreach that really impacts Crumpton. In particular, Crumpton mentions Panera Cares community cafés, which allow people to come in, eat a hot meal and pay only what they can afford. "Being part of a company that really believes in giving back is heaven to me. Food insecurity hits all people; it's a very inclusive issue," says Crumpton, noting that his father is his inspiration when it comes to giving back.

Crumpton's father, Harold, the first in his family to go to college and to get an MBA, was one of the first Blacks to be a part of Southwestern Bell's rotational management program—and he was never too busy to spend Saturdays helping the community. "He's a role model. He was a leader during a time when things weren't inclusive. We all benefit from people like him. That's where my passion lies," says Crumpton.

Stop Talking About the Rooney Rule

Magical thinking will not move the needle on your diversity efforts, or your career, if your leadership is not accountable for results.

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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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