Maxine Turner Cuisine Unlimited

UB Insider #24: Maxine Turner, Standing Up For the Little Guys

About this episode:

Maxine Turner has logged in more than 35 years starting and building a small business through growing Cuisine Unlimited, and she’s using the passion she’s gained through her career to fight for small businesses as a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In this episode of UB Insider, she talks to Utah Business‘ Lisa Christensen about why small businesses make up the backbone of the country’s economy, what challenges they’re facing nationally and locally, and what hard-earned advice she gives entrepreneurs just starting out. Subscribe to our podcast or download this episode on iTunes and Stitcher.


Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. Last winter, Maxine Turner, founder of Cuisine Unlimited was elected to the Board of Directors of the United States Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting. Before that, she was active on the Chamber’s council for small businesses for two years as well as active in the Salt Lake City Chamber. Thanks for coming in today.

Maxine Turner: Lisa it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Lisa Christensen: So you’re pretty busy. You’re in the national chamber, but you’re also on a bunch of different boards here including the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, the culinary board at Salt Lake Community College, lots of charity organizations and you were the first woman to be on the executive committee of the International Caterer’s Association. How do you go from all of those local organizations to being involved with the national chamber?

Maxine Turner: You know, some of those really span over my entire career of 37 years. So, you know, currently I’m serving on about seven different boards, but certainly being on the U.S. Chamber is really what my focus is right now, especially for the cause of small business.

Lisa Christensen: So how did you get involved with it? How did you initially become involved with the board?

Maxine Turner: You know, life has really a way of really taking on a life of its own. And it was really being in the right place, the right time and doing the right thing. We had a project that we had developed as a result of our being involved with seven different Olympic games. And that project really came to the attention of the U.S. Chamber. With that I was asked to serve on the Small Business Council, as you had indicated, for the last couple of years. And when the position for the chair became open, they asked if I would be interested in filling that position. I was so honored. How could I not say yes? Little did I know that it actually meant also a seat on the big board. And that is an amazing opportunity. There are three of us from the State of Utah who actually serve on that board. So we do have a good representation from the State of Utah. But I represent small business on that council and it’s really a position that I treasure.

Lisa Christensen: In what way does being on the U.S. Chamber compare with more local boards and organizations that you’ve been involved with?

Maxine Turner: Gosh, the U.S. Chamber represents 3 million people globally that are involved with the, under the umbrella of the U.S. Chamber. That includes not only the members that are businesses, both your large corporations and small business, but it also represents 1500 chamber and organizations across the country. Under their international division there’s actually 90 American Chamber of Commerce’s throughout the world. And in fact, I got involved in the Brazilian American Chamber when we were working on a project for Rio de Janeiro.

Lisa Christensen: So you have been passionate about small businesses for your entire career, and especially now as you said, working with the national chamber. And also with those international organizations. What is it about small businesses that are so important to our economy?

Maxine Turner: You know, it’s amazing. Small business really is truly the backbone of the American economy. The majority of businesses in this country are small businesses. That means that they are under 500 employees and smaller. And many of these are mom and pop operations that really are the main street of U.S.A.

You know, being involved with various organizations here locally has really given me, I guess, maybe the knowledge and what I needed to be able to serve on a board that’s so visible as the U.S. Chamber. Being involved in the Salt Lake Chamber, the Park City Chamber, we’re members of the Sandy City Chamber. Those really have guided us as to what the needs are of our local community that has given us a voice on a national basis. So there have been such valuable lessons learned in being involved locally that really, I think, gives us a stronger understanding of what is the need on a national business. But I’ve always been an entrepreneur.

I’ve always had a passion or small business and business owners and what we all go through. And certainly startup businesses, I mentor quite a few, and I have to say, I certainly look to the women in business and our contribution to the economy.

Lisa Christensen: Utah has quite a large startup community. You’ve been involved with so many organizations throughout the years. Tell me about how the small business and startup community in Utah has changed over the years.

Maxine Turner: You know, I think we really embrace small business in our community here. And we’ve really made it easier for companies, for people to really startup their own businesses. And whether it’s been through the women’s business center, whether it has been through Kathy Rickie’s amazing program, I think there are so many opportunities for people to learn how to run their business. And I have to tell you Lisa, that’s what’s so vitally important.

It’s not enough for people to have a great idea or a great product that they want to produce, they truly need to know how to run a business. And those were the difficult lessons that I had to learn very early in my career that I didn’t have that knowledge. Now there are all kinds of programs available locally, regionally and certainly nationally for entrepreneurs to really learn how to run their businesses.

Lisa Christensen: Tell me a little bit more about your own experience running a small business because you’ve been there. You’ve been there. Your career has been running a small business.

Maxine Turner: I never have any inkling that Cuisine Unlimited would be anything more than a very small catering operation. And we grew the company slowly. I think maybe I didn’t pay attention to that. I didn’t know that we were growing the way that we were. I just saw opportunities for us to expand and that really has cultivated. You know, we started with two employees. That’s all we really had. It was me and an assistant. And today, by the end of this year, we will have 150 employees under the Cuisine Unlimited umbrella with the divisions that we have.

Lisa Christensen: That’s fantastic. That’s quite great growth.

Maxine Turner: That is tremendous growth. And it’s come with a lot of experience on things to do and not to do. And certainly very important to that is not losing sight of what the core values of the company really are. And not to venture too far off into other mainstreams. To really keep the core of the company and things that complement back. So where we have started like a floral division, a rental division, a special event division, they all come back to serve the catering and to complement that. And having gone off into those other realms of, maybe it was a food service establishment, I found that they were out of our realm of knowledge and that staying very close to the really has been the success.

Lisa Christensen: How do you teach those lessons that you’ve learned to other entrepreneurs? You know, in your mentoring capabilities? And also how does your experience with that small growth and with those early rough lessons inform what you do on the national board?

Maxine Turner: You know, I think that for less locally, when I mentor young people who want to start their own company, I share a lot of stories of the lessons that I’ve learned. And I think it’s the storytelling of the things that have been very positive and things that I would do differently that I think resonate most with them. On a national basis I’m learning so much. Washington itself is certainly a different entity. And I take the values that I have from my experiences here in Utah and I take those back and I really listen intently to what is coming out of Washington that is coming back our way to affect small business. And I think that’s where I can have the most value.

It really is informing our local community regionally through our cornerstone project as well as having a voice nationally when we speak to congressional delegations, really looking for ideas and opinions from small business for issues that will affect us. One, for example, that boy it’s the gorilla in the room right now, and that is the overtime rule that is coming into effect as of December 1st. That regulation is going to across the country affect all businesses large and small. And we want to inform small businesses of what they need to prepare for. That becomes vital.

Our voice has to be not only the voice in Washington of what’s affecting small business, it also has to be the voice back to the community as to what they can expect in the coming months, the coming year. That’s why this election is so vitally important. Some of the regulations that are coming down are really executive orders. And with that, the next President will really be able to repeal some of those. That is really what our hope is, is that some of these regulations that are so burdensome tax small business beyond what we are capable to handle. So the overtime rule is the real example of how that’s going to affect us.

We’re taking a base of $23,800 right now for salaried employees and jumping that more than 100% to $47,400. That’s a tremendous increase. And they’re expecting us to do that within a six-month period of time. That doesn’t even give us time to adjust our budgets for the year in order to accommodate those kind of increases. If we so choose, and we really have to do the math when it comes to whether we should roll back a salaried employee back to hourly, there really is a formula to that. And we now, at Cuisine Unlimited, have taken ten of our employees back to hourly instead of salaried. And I have to tell you, we really have an unhappy group because they lose those benefits. This isn’t to help spur companies to grow, to add more jobs, this is actually having the reverse effect. And these are the kinds of things we have to go back and tell Washington.

Lisa Christensen: And that’s the purpose for the U.S. Chamber.

Maxine Turner: That’s the purpose of the Chamber, to really be the voice of business throughout the country and I gratefully and with honor have the voice of small business under the Chamber’s umbrella.

Lisa Christensen: So you’ve come from Utah. And we like to pride ourselves here on our great business climate. What are some of the things that we do that you try to take to the national board? You know, some examples of things that we do right that you try to give to others from around the country?

Maxine Turner: I think what makes us successful in our community is really our conservative nature. We really play things close to the vest. And whether that be small business, whether it be the way that we run our government, that really resonates back in Washington. Because those conservative values really are not what always exist in Washington. And if we take things in a much slower, methodical, planned method, we will see that business will be enhanced and not jeopardize the way we are now.

I don’t think that President Obama is wishing ill to small business or to any business, but he doesn’t understand business. And that’s where the problems arise. So to expect small business to make these kinds of leaps and bounds that he’s expecting of us, is only going to number one, it plays on the psyche of business. So business owners aren’t going to expand. We’re not going to add jobs. We’re going to see where the economy is going. And if we see that there’s any kind of downward turn, we’re going to pull back and it’s going to have the exact reverse effect of what he wanted.

Lisa Christensen: Conversely, are there any things that you have seen from any of the other states, you know, any other ways of doing business or, you know, sort of on a national level that you feel we could implement here in Utah and make our business climate even better?

Maxine Turner: You know, I think that it’s, with the influx of major corporations, we’re seeing a real increase in wages within our community, and that needed to happen. Utah pays an average of about $33,900 is the average wage in Utah. Nationally it’s over $36,000. So that $3,000 really does make a difference to a family and their economic standing. I want to be able to see that go up.

I’m certainly not opposed to the increase in hourly minimum wage. That does need to increase. But where nationally they’re looking at $15, that’s where I’m saying halt. Let’s do this slower. Let’s take it where it’s at $7.80 or something around that. We haven’t paid those kinds of wages in years. But let’s take it up to $10 or $11. Because we also have to embrace that there are a lot of young people coming out of high school who choose not to go on to higher education. And if we give them jobs at $15 an hour, they will not feel the need to really go on for higher education, even if it’s through a trade school. So we can’t make it so comfortable that people don’t want to improve their lot in life. But we need to make it enough for people to be able to afford housing and to be able to educate their children and pay their monthly bills. But not make it so comfortable that they’re not hungry for improvement.

Lisa Christensen: How has your experience on the national board and, you know, rubbing shoulders with all of these other business people from around the country, and becoming more acquainted with policy, how has that affected how you run your business?

Maxine Turner: I think it has made us much smarter business owners. And I think it’s because when we hear of the overtime rule that is taking affect, we’re much more I think prone to be proactive in seeing how that’s going to affect us. So I think being on that board has made me much more aware of the impact it can have on our company. And we look at how we’re going to manage that in the future.

Lisa Christensen: So you do a lot of mentoring and you have all of this experience. If you were to give advice to young entrepreneurs, people building the startups that will become the companies of tomorrow, what would it be?

Maxine Turner: I think that the best advice I can give them is to be aware of what Washington is proposing for business. I never paid attention to any of this when I was certainly a young company. But I am now. And I think that the regulations and things coming out of Washington are coming at us much faster.

Obama has implemented 600 new regulations during his administration. That’s a tremendous amount. He’s certainly not the only president that has done executive orders, but they really do affect business. And I think that young people need to keep a pulse on what is happening beyond the boundaries of Utah. Beyond even the boundaries of our country. This is a global economy and it’s here to stay. It means that we need to be very educated and in tune to what is happening on the global level.

Lisa Christensen: Thank you so much Maxine for joining us today.

Maxine Turner: Lisa, what a pleasure it’s been to be with you. Thank you for the opportunity.

Lisa Christensen: Absolutely. And thanks also to Mike Sasich for production help today. Tell us what you thought of today’s episode or whatever else you might want to tell us at or on social media. You can also subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher or catch up on old episodes. Thanks for listening.