Arranging such events provided an important lesson in organization, and one that has stayed with the 64-year-old management advisory services consultant ever since. "You might think that all that attention to detail and protocol and how everything needed to go by rank as mechanical and boring. But there was a reason for it," he explains.
Today, 34 years and two-million air miles after founding The Cornyn Fasano Group in Portland, Ore., where he'd moved to be closer to his daughter after a divorce, Cornyn is among the foodservice industry's top problem-solvers. And his help appears badly in need given current economic circumstances. "Clients are looking to cut costs or increase revenues in any way they can," he says.
Cornyn got his first big break doing just that. Hired by a large technology business to stem losses in an employee cafeteria, he wound up saving the company a bundle. In doing so, Cornyn says he called upon his experience at Zenith, where he worked after leaving the service, to resolve the problem.
His second break arrived via a new jail. "It was it was a brand new high-rise correctional facility in downtown Portland and the kitchen was on 10th floor. They had decided to implement a cook-chill and re-therm process similar to an airline system. But they didn't know how to do it," he remembers.
Trouble was, neither did Cornyn at the time. He turned the project down. But state officials told him no one else in the area could do it, and he eventually relented. "We never worked so hard in our lives," he recalls. An unexpected pay-off was a long article about the job in a national trade magazine. Overnight, he adds, the firm became an expert in the corrections field and over the years The Cornyn Fasano Group worked for more than two dozen such facilities.
Meanwhile, Cornyn joined the Foodservice Consultants Society International, a worldwide professional organization. Through networking with members, he landed a crucial consulting job at the University of California, San Diego that helped build his firm's reputation in school and university foodservice. He has been an active an FSCI member ever since.
Cornyn is now in his second year as president of the newly created FCSI – The Americas Division, overseeing the activities of some 660 members in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America. "You get to a point where you want to give back," he declares. "With the assistance and support of my partner, I opted to run for trustee and later moved up the chain."
Involved he has been. "You don't realize how much time you're away. At the same time, when you get involved, you have a professional obligation to practice what you preach," Cornyn explains.
By working with the other board members to help establish independence for the Americas division, now the largest of FCSI's three divisions, Cornyn has given its members their own budget and, ultimately, responsibility for their organization. "In the past, we were given a budget and politely told to live with it. Now we are free to have our own path," he says.
Lately, the group funded "super-regional" meetings, which last just a day-and-half to ease members' travel time. "You don't have to take a whole week out of calendar to attend this event. We're simply dealing with the reality of everyone's life-style and work challenges," Cornyn says. Meanwhile, the Cornyn hired a new company to manage FCSI – The Americas' business dealings.
Principal Joyce Fasano, an active FCSI member herself, says the changes have been stressful for John, to whom she's been married for 10 years. "It was a lot to take on in one term as president. But both the creation of the new division and new management company went hand in hand," she says.
Add to that, the firm's work. Cornyn and Fasano, for example, are in the midst of planning two restaurants at the Chicago Lyric Opera House.
How long can the duo maintain the pace? "As long we can physically get on and off airplanes," Cornyn explains. "Foodservice consulting is really an up close and personal process." Just as an officer's wife demonstrated to him early in his career.