September 28, 2017 Alumnus journeys from fashion to fast-casual cuisine

Sunil Doshi

Sunil Doshi, a recipient of the 2017 Fisher Alumni Professional Achievement Award, shares how his strong foundation in business education at Ohio State helped him navigate through many career challenges to find inspiration and success in both the world of fashion and the fast-casual restaurant industry. 

Doshi (BSBA ’94) always had a long-standing passion for business, and attending Ohio State seemed to be the best choice for the Dayton native. He knew he would receive an excellent education in the fundamentals of business, while enjoying an abundance of opportunities that the main campus offered.  

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Little did he know then that when he chose accounting as his major and became a part of the Accounting Honors program, the decision would serve him well throughout his successful career, resulting in numerous opportunities across multiple industries. 

From fashion to fast-casual cuisine

After graduating from Ohio State, Doshi served for nearly 13 years in various capacities at L Brands, Inc., including as vice president of financial planning and analysis at Mast Global, the company’s supply chain entity; and as vice president of retail finance at Bath & Body Works.

Following his tenure at L Brands, Doshi left Columbus and moved to Dallas to begin a three-plus-year stint at Fossil Group, where he held positions that included senior vice president and chief financial officer of Fossil Americas, and senior vice president of finance for global retail. As his career progressed, however, he was increasingly drawn to the middle market, where he knew his experience at larger public companies could enable a middle market company grow and scale.  

In 2015, he made the leap to change industries, leaving Fossil and the fashion industry to join Zoës Kitchen (NYSE: ZOES) as the CFO of the fresh-made Mediterranean, fast-casual restaurant chain.

Doshi joined the high-growth, fast-casual concept soon after the company’s successful 2014 IPO. Today, the $300 million company has more than 230 company-owned and operated locations in 20 states across the U.S.

In making the transition from retail to restaurants, Doshi leveraged and benefitted from a few key factors from his previous work.  

Throughout his career, he’s worked for companies that strived to create emotional connections with consumers. With its Mediterranean brand positioning, featuring a “better for you” menu, Zoës has built its brand with the female consumer in mind. 

“At Zoës, the team focuses on the needs of female consumers, because many family dining decisions are made by female heads of households who want the best for themselves and their families,” Doshi said. “With that in mind, Zoës continues to successfully develop exciting lunch, dinner and catering options with food that’s freshly made in each restaurant without the use of fryers or microwaves.”

Zoës Kitchen
Fast-casual restaurant chain Zoës kitchen is composed of 230 company-owned and operated locations in 20 states across the U.S.

 

With the rapid growth of fast-casual dining, he’s optimistic about the brand’s future. An April 20, 2016, article in QSR Magazine noted that fast-casual dining is the restaurant industry’s fastest-growing segment. For Zoës, the brand speaks to what consumers want from their dining experience, which is convenience, but the brand also provides quality and a healthy dining experience. 

“During my time at L Brands, I Learned that you want to be in an industry where you have the chance to become No. 1,” Doshi said. “For Zoës, there’s so much rich content for the brand to build on. It’s ultimately about meeting many needs of people: family, fresh food and living together.” 

Yet, Doshi’s career hasn’t been without its challenges, and the difficulties he encountered during tough times have led to some of his most significant growth opportunities. In 2008, he was working for L Brands’ Bath & Body Works during the early days of the Great Recession. He recalls a time when the economy was changing, and he was part of a leadership team that was forced to make difficult decisions for the future health of the brand. 

At Fossil, he faced a different type of challenge: technology. The emergence of wearable technology, particularly the Apple Watch, was a highly disruptive force for makers of traditional watches.  

“You saw brands changing right in front of you because of the technology disruption,” Doshi said. “Discounting led to brand erosion. Previously, it had all felt theoretical, but I felt it, and it was happening right under our feet.

“You learn a lot from things that are hard.”

The lessons learned during those challenging years have helped equip Doshi to handle the impact of today’s emerging technologies, such as online ordering, in the restaurant business.

From inspiration to involvement 

During his tenure with L Brands, Doshi was inspired by the company’s chairman and CEO, Les Wexner, and his commitment to Ohio State. That inspiration ultimately led to Doshi’s involvement with Fisher as an Alumni Board member, which has provided him greater insight about the impact of the university and the college. 

He has been impressed with the effort Fisher has put forth into the middle market — the establishment of the National Center for the Middle Market has been particularly meaningful to him, not only as a C-suite executive of a middle-market company, but also because Doshi worked with Doug Farren, who serves as the center’s managing director, while at L Brands. 

“I see a lot of potential for Fisher and what it can do for business and the community,” he said. “I want to continue to be a part of that.”

As an alumnus, Doshi has remained steadfast throughout the years in his fondness for the university and Fisher, and recently he’s increased his involvement with the college through his service on the Alumni Board. Today, he’s making an impact in and around his home city of Dallas by helping promote Ohio State and Fisher. 

“You get to the point in your career when you want to lift your head from the daily focus of work and give back more as an alum,” Doshi said. “I thought I’d be able to support the dean’s mission by serving on the Alumni Board, and I can see our efforts shaping up to make an impact.”

As a testament to Doshi’s outstanding achievement in business, civic involvement and service to the college, he was selected to receive Fisher's Professional Achievement Alumni Award.

From family life to personal growth

Sunil Doshi
Sunil Doshi (BSBA '94)

Doshi places family at the pinnacle of his professional and personal accomplishments. He and his wife, Urvi, have two children, ages 15 and 11. In his free time, Doshi enjoys keeping up with his children’s activities, sports, bicycling and traveling as a family. 

But at the root of family life — and the lifelong partnership behind it — is Doshi’s fondest Ohio State memory. It’s when he met Urvi, a 1997 graduate of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. 

Their relationship is rooted in Buckeye lore. According to Ohio State legend, if you take the “Long Stroll” by walking with your significant other, holding hands, from the east side of the Oval to the west side at the statue of President Orton, and no one walks in front of you, you’ll be together for life. 

In his ongoing professional growth, Doshi has discovered the importance of getting away from the day-to-day routine to make time for learning. For Fisher students, he recommends taking advantage of opportunities to meet different people, and to study abroad and learn about different cultures. But he cautions that career development is a gradual process. 

“Curiosity is king and you have to push yourself to be curious,” he said. “Patience is also important, and it takes time — cooking time. But curiosity — especially learning and reading — can accelerate the learning process.”