The FCSI Interview: Eric Norman

The newly appointed president of FCSI Worldwide, Eric Norman FCSI, is focused on helping the industry to steer through the tempest and spreading some sunshine along the way, reports Michael Jones

For a man with a naturally sunny disposition, Eric Norman’s first choice for a profession when he was a school kid is surprising. “In high school, I was going to be a meteorologist. We live in the Midwest of the United States [Iowa], so we get severe storms. I wanted to be a storm chaser,” he says.

The US National Weather Service’s loss ended up being the foodservice consultancy sector’s gain, and Norman has been kicking up a storm in the sector for more than 20 years. In truth though, when industry legend Ed Norman FFCSI – a former FCSI Worldwide past president too – is your father, perhaps there was an element of inevitability about that.

“When I was 16 years old, my dad asked me, ‘Are you interested in doing what I do?’ At that point, I wasn’t 100% sure what he did on a day-to-day basis. He was a design and MAS consultant [at MVP Services Group] at that point, but he also was running a buying group for 400 independent restaurants. I said, ‘Let me come in and start working and see what you do.’ It sounded interesting,” he says.

Norman began visiting his dad’s office and was immediately struck by the “wall of catalogs” for different manufacturers, which he was told to organize. He also learned the basics of CAD drawing. “It piqued my interest,” he smiles.

Norman Senior and Junior attended the NAFEM 2001 show together, when Eric turned He describes himself as “kind of hooked” on the industry from that moment. “It seemed that everyone at the show was having a good time. They enjoyed what they did and were welcoming. I made the decision: This is what I want to do.” Before the show, Norman also attended his first FCSI The Americas Conference. “Getting that duel hit, I was like, ‘Man, I want to join FCSI now, too. It was awesome,” he says.

Growing and learning

Storm chasing pipedreams now in the rear-view mirror, Norman studied Business Management at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, to get a grounding in running and growing a business. “I wanted to maximize my path. I continued to intern at MVP and I also went to Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) and took drafting, blueprint reading and construction management classes. But on-the-job training was so important,” he says.

His father’s wisdom is recalled by Norman to this day. “He gave me the opportunities to go out and experience the industry. I think it is imperative that young professionals in the industry have the chance to explore the broader scope of our industry and build valuable connections through networking and events. Ed gave me those opportunities. Factory tours and trade shows helped me obtain practical knowledge and I was able to take advantage of that consistently. Ed has such a diverse foodservice background that he taught me, not only the design side, but also interweaved an MAS education too. That was so impactful in my career.”

Having graduated, Norman the younger was soon entrusted to take on projects himself. “MVP was probably doing 30 K-12 school projects each year at that point, but I was still ‘green’, so I did the small restaurants and B&I clients. But I was quickly very grounded in K-12. When I first did get my chance at project management, my dad said, ‘Okay, you’re ready.’ And he threw four schools at me in one school district. So, I was under the gun. But Ed had taught me the ins and outs of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) layouts and technical documentation, plus writing specs and drawing. That made me more comfortable moving into project management,” he says.

Eric made vice president at MVP in 2010. He quickly received two major awards too. The FCSI Worldwide Industry Service Award came in 2012, While the Foodservice Equipment Reports’ Young Lion Award followed in 2013. Both are still an immense source of pride to him.

The adventures continue

MVP merged its business with Washington-based Clevenger Associates in 2017. It was a great fit for both firms, says Norman.

“Ed was getting older, and we discussed how hard it is to be a one-man firm – or just a small firm – so we started keeping our ear to the ground in terms of potentially merging with or buying another company. We looked at all aspects.”

A chance meeting between Norman and Clevenger’s Brent Hall FCSI at the FCSI TAD Conference in Phoenix in 2014 saw them discuss future business plans. After many months of conversations back and forth, a strategy was formed. A merger enabled Clevenger to expand into the Midwest. For MVP, it enabled the Normans to continue their respective career paths – Ed’s towards a well-earned retirement and, for Eric, further adventures in a larger consultancy. He joined Clevenger as VP of the Midwest division, becoming principal VP in July 2023.

Clevenger’s unique selling point, says Norman, is its company culture. “We wanted to merge with a firm that had a very similar culture to ours. We wanted to be a laid-back company that has fun. Another huge thing for my career is my involvement with FCSI. I needed to work for a company that was going to allow me to keep doing that. Obviously, because Brent is also so active in FCSI, we’re completely aligned in our thinking.”

For Norman, the versatility of the projects Clevenger takes on is that another major factor for its success. It has offices in Southern California, Seattle, the Midwest, and The Philippines and works in virtually every project segment. “It has a good internal network of knowledge and communication that we use all the time to work on projects around the country and around the world,” says Norman.

FCSI: a catalyst

For Norman, another exceptional network for knowledge is FCSI itself. “It is invaluable. If I’m working on a specific project in a certain market segment and I get stumped by a piece of equipment or something that comes up, I have so many people I can immediately call in my FCSI network and say, ‘How would you address this?’ That collaboration is invaluable. We share with each other all the time and over the last 10 years, the society has become even more open,” says Norman. “I believe it’s very important to be able to say to a client, ‘Today these are the limits of my knowledge. But tomorrow, I’ll know this, and I’ll get back to you.”

Before he became president of FCSI Worldwide, Norman was chair of FCSI The Americas. “FCSI has been so instrumental in shaping my career. I was a student member and FCSI was the catalyst for my education. But I have so many lifelong friends through FCSI now. It’s a tight-knit community. We all share our successes and horror stories about the projects we’ve worked on, and that camaraderie is so important,” he says.

What does he hope to achieve in his presidency? “The biggest two things are, firstly, wrapping up all the strategic planning that we were working on through 2020-2023. We made great progress in aligning the divisions, and becoming a closer and more cohesive global society. The next biggest thing is FCSI WW’s transition to our publishing partner, 1473 Media. We are rebuilding our portfolio and that’s so exciting,” he says.

Variety is the spice of life

When asked where he finds himself the happiest in his job – whether designing, growing the business, meeting clients, or fixing snagging issues on site – Norman says it’s essentially, all of the above. I’m happiest knowing that I get to do all those things. The best thing about my professional life is the diversity and knowing I’m not doing the same thing every day.” For Norman, that’s nearly exclusively design work these days, although many will recall the excellent Rock My Restaurant series he hosted with Bill Bender FCSI for Foodable WebTV in the 2010s, where the two consultants would troubleshoot operators issues.

“That show got me comfortable with public speaking. It was awesome to research all those topics, and then discuss them live on our show. It was a huge learning experience for me,” he says.

Away from work, Norman snowboards “a ton” and plays disc golf and pool. He loves to travel, believing it’s “life’s best educator”, but ultimately, he is at his most content spending time with his wife Kerrie and son, Gunther, and the family’s two Bernese Mountain Dogs, Archie, and Winston – a faithful presence during our interview. That’s a lot to balance, but Norman has always had a thing about finding his comfort zone in the eye of the storm.

Michael Jones