A Closer Look: Chris Diebel

March 19, 2021

Director of Public Affairs, Iowa Business Council

By Michael Crumb, Business Record

For many, Chris Diebel may be known as a founding partner of Bubba, the Southern comfort food restaurant in downtown Des Moines. Last fall, Diebel switched gears when he took on the role of director of public affairs of the Iowa Business Council. For Diebel the move is a return to his roots in marketing and public relations, which included stints as an account executive for a communications firm in Los Angeles, event manager at an Urbandale hotel, marketing project manager and later director of marketing for Orchestrate Hospitality Management, and managing director of public affairs for LPCA Public Strategies. He’s still the largest shareholder at Bubba and is heavily involved in high-level planning and marketing, and is in daily communication with the Bubba team, but he is not directly involved in the restaurant’s daily operation. With the restaurant in the capable hands of General Manager Kate Willer and Chef Rob Urzal, Diebel said the time was right to move on to other challenges.

What are your goals in your new role with the Business Council?

The Business Council’s work is exciting to me because it addresses common-sense issues facing the business community in a nonpartisan way. While the organization is comprised of Iowa’s largest companies, the advocacy work we do has a positive impact on organizations of all sizes. I’m excited to help spread the word on these critical policy initiatives, as well as having the opportunity to amplify the compelling stories of our member companies. I’m looking forward to driving that narrative nationally with a targeted marketing campaign we’re involved in this year to see about bringing people to Iowa.

What did you learn in the hospitality industry that will help you in your new position?

Hospitality is a customer-driven industry, and public relations is, too, right? It’s a different form of communication and outreach, but nonetheless the two are very similar. I need to be responsive and proactive to members of the media and members of our organization in a way that one would expect a quality service person in hospitality to be to their customer in a restaurant or retail. All those core lessons you learn from the hospitality side can be applied to any job; it just so happens that I`ve had this dueling interest my whole life between hospitality and public relations. I may bring some of that small business perspective to the table, but I have a real appreciation because I have a vested interested in one of those small businesses in the community being served by these big organizations, and I have a real appreciation for just how powerful they can be for their individual communities and the state of Iowa.

What lessons did you learn during 2020?

The words that came out of 2020 for me were perseverance and ingenuity. You saw people say they don’t know what’s coming tomorrow but they were going to be there, whether it was coming up with cocktail kits or special themed dinners or figuring out ways to do wine dinners at home. We did a pop-up doughnut shop at Bubba. But you came up with creative ways to engage your customers and stay top of mind. The people who were going to make it out of this are the people who were constantly innovating and thinking about the next way to not just drive revenue, but protect their staff, grow or maintain their workforce. What can we do to responsibly grow our hours that will allow us to serve our family of employees better and also serve the community? And how can we do that in a fun way? Because in the darkest days of the pandemic people needed something to smile about.

What is your management style or philosophy?

I believe in the collaborative management style and encourage idea-sharing and regular employee participation. I believe that helps a company grow and fosters team buy-in. It flushes out stronger solutions and encourages team members to take more responsibility for decisions and outcomes and results in an environment where everyone has skin in the game.

What book would you recommend?

“Life, on the Line: A chef’s story of chasing greatness, facing death and redefining the way we eat,” by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. What’s cool about this book is each chapter is written from a different partner’s perspective and they even change the font to follow the voice of writing in that chapter. It chronicles the true story of chef Grant Achatz and his business partner, Nick Kokanas, so you watch this creative genius chef tell his perspective and then you watch the finance guy in the business world who’s funding all it, and all these stories of adversity pop up and how they look at them differently and ultimately address them together. At the height of his career, chef Achatz was diagnosed with basically terminal cancer and they told him they were going to have to amputate his tongue, a pretty awful thing for chef, and did an experimental treatment in Chicago and beat it and then went on to become one of the most famous chefs in the world. It’s a really cool story, and you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate all those lessons of adversity, but also watching two absolutely different mindsets come together to create one of the most successful hospitality brands in history.

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A Closer Look: Chris Diebel


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