Abundance mentality. As executive director of business development and asset management for Panda Restaurant Group, Hector Coronel prescribes to that mind-set saying, “This is not about scarcity. Panda is a growth business, looking for opportunities to grow the brand.”
Coronel remembers once worrying about a Chinese food restaurant opening next to a Panda store. Leadership, though, had a different response to the competition. Because Panda was looking to grow the American Chinese food market, more restaurants meant more consumer interest. Today, Coronel happily embraces the concept that, not only is there enough for everyone but it’s always better when there is more.
Coronel has the formidable job of managing Panda’s real estate, which is ruled by more than two thousand locations. That job includes overseeing new unit growth in nontraditional spaces like universities and airports, as well as the asset management for all other properties. Staying in tune with leases, negotiations, and long-term planning requires a close connection with every department in the company, as well as local operators. On the collaboration that drives his work, he says, “This is a people-development company. People come first.”
For his team, Coronel clears a path and facilitates work. “I lead by giving ownership,” he explains. “The goal is to not lose any stores—it’s to keep growing. And the larger goal is to make sure the team grows professionally and personally within Panda. I have to empower decision-making.” .
“It’s different when you think of the project as your own,” he says. Together, he and his team seek successes for individual restaurants—and they let it get personal. “Turning off the lights and closing a store is too easy,” Coronel says. Instead, he believes finding creative solutions that foster growth (and maintain employees) can and should be the real challenge.
Response to the first several weeks of the COVID-19 crisis exemplified Coronel’s commitment to Panda’s guideposts of hard work, humility, and diversity. As he explains, the initial triage team quickly understood that to be proactive, it needed as much knowledge as possible. Leaning on his collaborative skills, he says, “There is no playbook for this. But that is like asset management. You have to deputize people and then . . . go!” Along with scheduling daily cross-company staff meetings, Coronel paired teams with local stores to provide guidance and carry forth the people-first message.
“What a privilege it is to be making decisions at a place where diversity of opinion is encouraged in order to get to the best possible outcome,” Coronel says. That type of gratitude for Panda is what’s kept him with the company for sixteen years.
Born in Los Angeles’s Lincoln Heights, Coronel left at eleven years old after his parents decided to head back to Mexico and their native Jalpa, Zacatecas. Suddenly, Coronel found himself on a farm feeding pigs. Now, he reminisces about the experience, but back then he only wanted to return to the States. “Returning to their homeland, that was my parents’ American Dream,” he explains. “It was not my American Dream.” In 1991, while visiting family in Southern California, he enrolled in high school with plans of staying put. Eventually, his parents came north to support him.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earning a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Southern California, Coronel felt like he was well on his way to a community development government job. But it was right then that he met Andrew and Peggy Cherng, cofounders and co-CEOs of Panda Restaurant Group. Wowed by their values and ethos, the future executive director decided to take a turn with the Cherngs.
He still finds himself learning from the founders. On a recent project, as he pushed hard to finish, Coronel says that leadership pulled him aside. “Andrew wanted to make sure I was bringing people along,” Coronel explains. The reminder from the top was that training people supersedes getting projects done fast.
As a family-owned business that operates the majority of its stores, Panda’s values align with Coronel’s commitment to family. While they still have the home in Zacatecas, his parents live right next door to him in Los Angeles. Holding to the idea of abundance, he and his wife of seventeen years find consistent reconnection. “We are a part of each other’s lives,” Coronel says proudly. “And I know my children.”
Based on his own experiences, as well as those of his parents and Panda, Coronel believes, “Anything that comes my way, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Hector Coronel has achieved his American Dream and now understands that dream as one shared with Panda’s 41,000 employees. To underline that point, he speaks of a colleague who started as a dishwasher without the ability to speak English. Now, Coronel explains, the same man manages thousands of employees and hundreds of stores. Even in the midst of everyday chaos—and a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic—Coronel still gets to witness the manifestation of dreams.
Congratulations Hector Coronel for the well-deserved recognition you are receiving. Your career path and leadership is truly inspirational. Craft Construction is proud of its long-standing relationship with you and Panda Restaurant Group. We look forward to continuing to provide you valuable, efficient, turnkey General Contractor services throughout the Nation.