With a talent for developing people and inspiring innovation from her teams, Anita Klopfenstein has built a powerhouse IT organization since joining Little Caesars in 2017 as its CIO. One of the secrets behind her success as a leader is her love of learning. After majoring in both computer science and radio, television and film, she went on to earn an MBA. Over the course of her career, she\u2019s remained curious \u2014 not just about technology and business, but about leadership, cultures, and communities. She explains that continually expanding her knowledge and trying new things makes her better able to see problems and opportunities differently.\n\nWhen we spoke for the Tech Whisperers podcast, we unpacked her leadership philosophies and career journey, including how she\u2019s transformed IT at Little Caesars and within the pizza industry by taking on the role of \u201cChief Obstacle Remover.\u201d Afterwards, we spent more time exploring the culture, values, and innovation that make Little Caesars an amazing place to work. What follows is that conversation, edited for length and clarity.\n\nDan Roberts: Little Caesars has a rich history of innovation and a spirt of fun that really go back to the company\u2019s founders, Mike and Marian Ilitch. Can you talk about how the values shape that culture today?\n\nIt\u2019s so great to be with such an iconic brand. Whenever I\u2019m wearing or carrying something with the logo on it, people feel compelled to say \u2018Pizza! Pizza!\u2019 or come up and talk to me because they just love this brand so much. It goes back to Mike and Marian creating that passion and inspiring and motivating people to put their entire heart into the brand.\n\nPeople who have been here 30-plus years will tell you, the culture they created for Little Caesars and their energy and love of people inspired colleagues to do their very best. And they love these two people so much. They still talk about \u2018Mr. and Mrs. I\u2019 and their passion for their families. Mrs. I\u2019s first question is never about the business or what do you do here. It is about your family and are you having fun.\n\nHow do you instill those values into a young, ever-changing workforce?\n\nWe have many ways that we try to keep that culture moving. We have service awards. We literally have a full Thanksgiving dinner for our colleagues. We have a holiday party where we take over the Little Caesars arena. We have a big company picnic where we go to a Detroit Tigers game. [Ed. note: Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers are all part of Ilitch Companies.] Every department has some sort of an event. My organization has an annual town hall around Halloween, and my entire leadership team, including myself, dress up in costumes. We have our own IT service awards. I always have an opening day potluck. It\u2019s just trying to develop that camaraderie with the group.\n\nEvery new colleague also goes through a culture class by David Scrivano, our CEO. It tells them the story of Little Caesars and Mike and Marian and why our guiding principles are so valuable. We all go through that periodically to refresh it in our minds. We have a beautiful new building and on the second and third floors is a historical walkthrough of our company. As you\u2019re walking through those, you can see and feel that culture represented. All of that helps get everybody charged up.\n\nThe harder part is getting that culture across when we\u2019re working remotely. So we still remind folks of our culture and play some of the videos for them periodically. We look for ways to get folks to come back in the building, whether it be a food court or a cappuccino man coming in. It\u2019s about trying to get folks to come in and have that close engagement with one another.\n\nLittle Caesars\u2019 first value is \u2018Serve Others.\u2019 What does that mean in practice, and how do you reinforce it?\n\nWe live by our values. In fact, our service awards are all geared around rewarding and recognizing people who do these very well. \u2018Serve Others\u2019 reflects our commitment to making our customers lives easier every chance we get. This could be the customer buying the pizza in the store, but it could also be supporting a store franchisee or supporting a colleague if they\u2019re having a problem, because, especially in IT, our direct customers are our franchisees and our colleagues.\n\nSo, for example, one of our project coordinators worked through the night to ensure that a store opened up on time and properly. It wasn\u2019t his problem. It was because of someone else\u2019s lack of planning. But he had that strong desire to serve this franchisee to make sure that their first experience with opening up a Little Caesars store was positive, so they could sell those pizzas that next day.\n\nThe second value is \u2018Own Your Work.\u2019 What does that look like at Little Caesars?\n\nThis is a big one to me. We set high standards, and we embrace accountability. Do a great job, admit when you fail, and have passion for your work. This is what I love about our IT team, because sometimes they set such high standards for themselves that I\u2019ll say, this is good enough. We can roll it out now. Let\u2019s put all those other things that you want to do in a \u2018to-do\u2019 list and we\u2019ll work them out, but let\u2019s go.\n\nFor me embracing accountability is key. I have always felt it is better to fall on your sword and admit you made a mistake and let\u2019s figure out where we go from here. This is what that particular value also embraces.\n\nThe third one, \u2018Invent Something,\u2019 seems steeped in the company\u2019s culture. Can you talk about how that permeates what you do?\n\nInventing is very core to Little Caesars. As you mentioned on the podcast, we were the first ones to come up with the conveyor oven to send the pizzas through and bake them that way. From the first conveyor all the way to our pizza portal that we use for digital ordering, you can tell that we just love to invent things. In fact, we have a group we call Area 51, which means I really can\u2019t talk about it, but they get all the fun work of coming up with a lot of cool new ideas.\n\nIt\u2019s really about taking the initiative and being adventurous and open-minded. In IT, we had an employee demonstrate this value when they wanted to go invent a self-service option for our customers in the store. On his own, over the weekend, he developed an app to allow customers to come in, scan a product, pay and say, \u2018Look, I paid for three things, and I can go.\u2019 We\u2019re actually gearing up to test it in a store.\n\nThe fourth value is \u2018Never Give Up,\u2019 which is so powerful. Could you expand on number five, \u2018Be an All-Star\u2019?\n\nIf you think about the all-stars on a team, they inspire, they motivate, they mentor, and they make an impact. We also strive to be a force for good and fun. I call this our rally cry. An all-star is that person who, when you are fourth and goal, says, come on team, we can do this. Here\u2019s how we can get it done. They motivate the team. When that project looks impossible, they help everyone succeed and get things done just by creating a fun work environment. Words matter, but so does how you treat your people during a project, and an all-star person is kind of that big cheerleader of the group.\n\nWhen you\u2019re taking people on big journeys, how do you communicate the vision for the initiative and get people excited about it?\n\nIt\u2019s really the \u2018Mission Impossible\u2019 story plot. You define the mission: Here\u2019s what we need to do. Define the why: Why are we doing this? What is the business purpose? What is the problem we\u2019re solving? Define the enemy: What are the risks? What are the unknowns? What are some things we\u2019re going to do to help mitigate them?\n\nYou define the teams and the roles: You\u2019ve got your Tom Cruise guy who has all the fun gadgets. You\u2019ve got the ones on the comms. You define that so everyone knows their part to play. Then it\u2019s what ammunition do you have: What support are you getting from your senior leadership? What are the resources, the budgets? What are the tools? What else do we need?\n\nYou also need to have a well-thought-out plan: We\u2019re going to learn more as we go, but here\u2019s how things are going to progress. Here\u2019s where we\u2019re going with this. And then, as the leader, ensure you\u2019re the one taking the bullets while rallying them around the cause.\n\nThat\u2019s exactly what we did with our CV in the Cloud project. Everybody was already drained. They\u2019d been trying to roll out this core product that was using unsupported software, and they felt defeated, and they were tired, and it was, let\u2019s go build new. As we talked more, everyone said yeah, we can do it. We\u2019ll have to go outside and get experts in this, but by planning that out, they felt better about it. It wasn\u2019t me coming in saying, \u2018We\u2019re going to go do this; let\u2019s figure it out.\u2019 It was me coming in and being excited, telling them how they\u2019re going to help solve this problem and they\u2019re going to help pull this off and that they\u2019re critical roles. That rallied them around it, and here we are now, rolling it out worldwide.\n\nWhat\u2019s your advice to IT people managers in today\u2019s world, where we want people to be all-stars, but there\u2019s also this environment of \u2018quiet quitting\u2019 and uncertainty and maybe the manager doesn\u2019t want to rock the boat?\n\nI believe every person truly wants to do the best job possible. And I believe that if you as a leader can find the hidden talent of that person, inspire them, recognize them, and support them, then they\u2019re going to do the best that they can. They\u2019re going to want to ensure that they\u2019re successful because you have so much trust in them.\n\nPeople also need to feel that what they\u2019re doing matters: Don\u2019t just hand me a project. Don\u2019t hand me a task. Help me understand. Why am I doing it? How will it impact the business? If you can do that for a team, they are going to move mountains for you. But if they do and you don\u2019t value and appreciate them, you\u2019re going to get quiet quitters. So find out what motivates your team and how you can have fun. You don\u2019t have to have money to have fun. I will bring in cornhole and we will have cornhole tournaments. I\u2019ve let them throw cream pies at me if they hit a goal. Look for ways the team can come together.\n\nWith the Great Resignation, we were starting to have people leave, and our first inclination was, we\u2019ve got to hold on to everybody. I would rather have five solid, motivated, warrior all-stars than twenty quiet quitters. If people want to leave, I need to learn from that: Is there something we can do better? Is there something about how we\u2019re running our teams? Are there places I need to dig into to make sure folks are getting treated the way we want them to be treated? But I also don\u2019t want to chase after people.\n\nSo what I would tell IT managers is, rock the boat, and if you fall out of the boat, it\u2019s not the boat you\u2019re supposed to be in. And then go find another boat.\n\nFor more from ORBIE Award-winning CIO Anita Klopfenstein, tune in to the Tech Whisperers podcast.