Emerging Leaders of Olive Garden | Sean Wallin

Aug 30, 2016 8:30 AM ET

Q. How long have you been with Olive Garden, and what was your first job with the brand?

A. I’ve just celebrated my 10-year anniversary. I started at the Olive Garden in Boise, ID, as a busser, and I was still working at that same restaurant until days ago. Now I’m headed to the Kennewick, WA, Olive Garden to work as a service manager.

Q. How has Olive Garden recognized your potential and helped you to be successful?

A. Even when I didn’t believe in myself and didn’t know my own potential, somebody did. And through cross-training and growing with the company, opportunities presented themselves. People here do care, and they really do amazing things for you. For example, every manager has recognized my desire for higher education. They have provided great flexibility with scheduling so I can do well at Boise State University, where I’m working toward degrees in history and marketing. My Boise General Manager, Tyler Lester, my mentor for four years, has shown great interest in my growth. Learning from him, watching him and getting his feedback has been the very best training. Without Tyler, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. 

Q. Given that every Olive Garden employee is the face of the brand, what positive qualities do you best represent?

A. I possess a great sense of character. I take pride in myself and the professionalism that goes along with our workplace. I have a lot of empathy -- something you need to have in the restaurant business, which is organized chaos. I also bring integrity. If you were to ask my team members about me, I think all of them would describe me as someone they can rely on, someone they want to work hard for, someone who has passion and wants to achieve great things. I always remember a famous quote Tyler likes to repeat: "If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters."

Q. Can you share with us a memorable guest interaction that moved you or possibly even changed you?

A. When I started at Olive Garden, I never thought I would be able to impact someone’s life, but one day changed me forever. A mother with four physically disabled girls sat down at my table, and I thought, "I think I can take care of this family in a way that I never have before." The girls were shy at first, but I interacted with them and they warmed up. I made every accommodation for them so they would be comfortable. I felt like I was a part of their family and we were sitting at home on the couch having a good time. When they left, the mom gave me a hug and said it had been difficult for them to go out in the world, but coming to the Olive Garden and meeting me gave them a new sense of hope. I’ve never forgotten that. I can impact a person’s life just by being me.