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Successful leadership in 6 ingredients. Joan Roca

The prestigious The World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranked El Celler de Can Roca as the best place to eat on the planet in 2013 and 2015. Now is a legend with the title Best of the best. What’s its secret sauce? Things like staying true to your roots, finding your passion and taking care of your team.

6 qualities of successful leaders

If these sound familiar, they should. Managing an haute cuisine restaurant has a lot in common with managing other types of businesses. We’ve got more ingredients for leadership success from head chef Joan Roca and a case study by IESE professor Xavier Oliver. They’re sure to leave a great taste in your mouth.

1. Stay true to your origins

Are you clear about who you are? Do you remember your origins? Only by knowing where you come from can you make steady progress, without losing sight of your principles.

El Celler de Can Roca was born among the stoves of Can Roca, the restaurant that the parents of the Roca brothers are still running on the outskirts of Girona. Joan Roca explains that spending the first years of his life in the kitchen of the family business awoke his passion for cooking. Together with his brothers Josep and Jordi, they opened a new restaurant beside their parents’ bar in 1986. Twenty-seven years later, the magazine Restaurant named it the best restaurant in the world, and since then it has not left the top positions of the prestigiousThe World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking.

“We are still in the same place that we were born, grew up and finally made our dream reality. There is a connection to our origins,” explains chef Joan Roca.

This ethos carries over into the food. The restaurant uses mainly local ingredients from around Catalonia, and many of its dishes are traditional Catalan cuisine with a twist.

2. Work hard and with passion

Discover your dream and strive to make it a reality. Be passionate about what you do and keep putting all your efforts into improving every day. Leadership requires passion and hard work.

While recent years have brought widespread recognition and success, for Can Roca, the early years were all about working hard, learning, honing skills, and sharpening focus. It’s important to find something you’re passionate about – and then to work hard at it.

3. Look after your team

Business management is not a task that you do alone; it requires teamwork. It is important to look after collaborators and create a good working environment where each person can bring their best.

At El Celler de Can Roca, they see this very clearly, and that’s why, since 2013, every Tuesday afternoon the restaurant’s 75 staff work with a coach specialized in high-performance team psychology. They don’t open for lunch that day – even though that means sacrificing revenue. But for the Roca brothers the time is well spent. It’s a time for raising interpersonal, interdepartmental and external questions. It’s a time to reflect together as a team, and to take a step back before carrying on again.

4. Make sure the spaces are right

Is your workspace the most appropriate? Does it allow fluid communication with the rest of your team? The workplace has to be comfortable, spacious and well equipped. It’s something so obvious, but so often forgotten.

For a restaurant, that means focusing on the kitchen as well as the dining room. “A lot of kitchens are built in the far corner of the premises or in a basement that the architect doesn’t consider beautiful enough for the client,” explains Joan Roca. One of the big changes of French nouvelle cuisine was precisely that the chef decided where and how the kitchen was built, because it was their home.

5. Research tirelessly

Even when you have reached your goal, you must keep searching for new ideas and experimenting so as to avoid stagnation. Not settling is the basis for invention.

At El Celler de Can Roca they link this desire to go beyond the conventional to creativity and the search for new formulas. With this in mind, they create teams to question everything, continuously, so as to look for ways of transforming their products. In 2014, they spent a total of 12,000 working hours on research, enabling them to introduce 58 new dishes to the menu.

6. Collaborate with the best

Collaborating makes you stronger, as long as you choose suitable partners. Working hand in hand with other sector leaders is enriching and allows growth as a professional.

El Celler de Can Roca accepts a constant trickle of collaborations. In 2014, they embarked on “The Cooking Revolution” project together with BBVA bank, a tour taking the Can Roca kitchen to different parts of the world where the bank has operations and allowing the restaurant to discover new ingredients and new dishes. They spent three years going around the world, cooking with local cultures, and searching for and finding inspiration.

The outreach allowed He affirms that travel “makes you see that you have a lot to learn. This was great motivation for us, keeping us alive and active”. He adds that a lot is also learned from reading and talking with the producers, who are the ones on the front line and that know the products best.


If as an executive you need to improve techniques, discover new inspiring recipes or learn the latest trends, IESE’s masters and executive education programs will help. Our portfolio includes general management programs and specialized courses that will help you to advance your professional career, learning from the best teachers and the latest success stories.

Read the article: Keys to being a good leader.

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