Before Amit Kleinberger came to the United States and helped launch Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, he was a member of the Israeli military. He graduated from commanders and sergeants school, served as a sergeant in Israel’s armed forces and was a member of an infantry combat unit.
“It shaped me more than anything,” Kleinberger says. “In combat, there are tough situations. When you tell someone, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ they are risking their lives. It’s absolutely not going to work if you think they’re going to do what you tell them to do simply because you’re the ranking authority at the time.
“In times of combat, people will fight for their lives and do what they need to do to survive.”
Kleinberger sought to earn the loyalty of the people in his charge by being someone that they could believe in and trust, even in the direst circumstances.
“You have to be the person they want to follow,” Kleinberger says. “It’s about the values, the culture and the way you treat them. You have to be the kind of person who they feel is a role model, someone they can learn from. But you also have to be competent. You can’t just be the nicest person in the world. You have to know your stuff. If you’re not competent, they are not going to follow.”
That philosophy served him well in his military service and it has helped him be successful in a number of business ventures — one gland slam of which is Menchie’s, which opened in 2007 and launched as a franchise company in 2008.
The company now has 288 stores in 17 countries with another 300 stores in development. Annual revenue is about $143 million and Kleinberger, the company’s CEO, credits a culture that gives employees a sense of pride and ownership in everything that they do.
“Every good leader can see if their people are inspired and subscribed to the mission or if they are just there to do a job,” Kleinberger says. “Any leader can see when they lead someone if that person is doing it with their heart. The writing should be on the wall.”
Here’s a look at how Kleinberger finds people who believe in his leadership style and helps them become an integral part of the Menchie’s family.
Get the right people
Kleinberger describes his schedule as “liquid.” He tries to plan things out as far as two months ahead of time, and it’s not always easy to find an opening for a new appointment. But when it comes to his employees and their needs, they never have to wait to get a piece of his time.
“Even though I have things scheduled, my team comes first,” Kleinberger says. “If they need me for something, everything will be on hold, and I’ll be there for them. Everything else waits.”
This commitment to culture begins during the hiring process. It’s not unusual to have dozens of interviews to fill a single open position.
“I will take anywhere from 100 to 200 applications per position and from those, we will narrow it down to one hire,” Kleinberger says. “We’re really picky when it comes to getting the right people.”
He wants people who have skills, but more importantly, he wants people who bring the attitude that he is looking for to become part of the team.
“The skill sets are easy to identify,” Kleinberger says. “People have credentials. The harder thing is for most people who are not successful; it’s not because of their skills. It’s because they don’t have the right approach to what they do. That’s what ends most relationships in business.”
Kleinberger says he doesn’t want people who just want to sell as much as they can at their store, and he’s not looking for people who see Menchie’s as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things.
“Growth is not an objective,” Kleinberger says. “It’s a result. You’re not going to grow because you want to grow. You’re going to grow as a result of doing the right thing at the right time for the right person. It’s the same thing when I hire people. If they’re here because they just want to grow and that’s their objective, it’s not going to work.
“If their objective is to bring good to the world and to my company and to make people smile and to work as a team, if all those things are their objectives, the result is inevitable. They are going to succeed no matter what.”
Those who try to marginalize the importance of culture in the workplace, says Kleinberger, do so at their own peril.
“Nothing can happen with a wrong culture,” Kleinberger says. “Nothing will happen. The culture is what will define the performance of your company.”
Assembling a team of loyal employees is only the first step, of course, in achieving those great results. You bring in people and talk to them about being a valued member of your team. You need to follow that up with opportunities for them to provide that value.
“Empowerment is critical,” Kleinberger says. “If you bring people in, let them do what they need to do and empower them to the point where it’s even taking a risk. If you bring someone in to take care of a specific role or job function, let them run with it.”
Kleinberger cites his vice president of marketing as a prime example of the value of empowerment.
“There’s a senior executive that I hired and she’s an experienced lady,” Kleinberger says. “But beyond that, I believe in who she is. She has the attitude and the skill set. Recently, we were on the verge of launching a few products that I was less involved with than I usually am. The message I gave to her was clear: If you believe it, and you’ve done your studies, and you think this will work, go for it. Make it happen.”
It can be tough as the CEO to let people take action when you’re not sure of all the variables that have led to the action. But just as you had to learn and be given a chance when you were climbing the ladder, your people need the same opportunity.
“It is a big risk because if these products come out and are not as successful as others, that can have a risk,” Kleinberger says. “But I’m confident in these products because I believe in her. I believe she did the right due diligence to arrive at the result we want.”
He believes that many people who leave a job don’t do it because they’ve grown to dislike the company.
“The most common reason people leave is mistreatment and micromanagement,” Kleinberger says. “Empower them. If they feel they can make big decisions and make an impact and make things happen, they will do that big time. The problem is most companies don’t give people that leeway. They micromanage them and don’t give them the ability and responsibility to do certain things.”
So what happens when something goes wrong?
“It’s part of business,” Kleinberger says. “Don’t fear making mistakes. The ones who don’t do anything don’t make mistakes. For the ones who do things, it’s part of business. I make mistakes every day. Understand it, assume responsibility, repair it and prevent it. Those are the most important phases of accountability.”
Focus on the best
On a recent Friday afternoon at Menchie’s corporate office, Kleinberger arranged for a food truck from In-N-Out Burger to swing by and serve lunch from noon to 4 p.m.
“It has nothing to do with growing the business, but it has everything to do with it because that’s culture,” Kleinberger says. “They get to spend the afternoon with their friends celebrating. That’s what I mean by culture. It’s about doing things that show the team that we care because we really do.”
These days, businesses are chasing every dollar to get ahead but you can’t forget the effort your employees put in to achieve those successes. And if you’re worrying too much about costs and not taking the time to show your appreciation, you could be headed for trouble.
The same is true for your willingness to regularly make investments in your business that will please your customers.
It’s one of the key reasons Kleinberger puts better ahead of cheaper and revenue before cost on his priority list. If you spend too much time worrying about what you’re spending, you’ll never grow.
“The first rule is better before cheaper,” Kleinberger says. “It’s always good to compete on key differentiators and key value propositions instead of on price and being a commodity. The second rule is revenue before cost. I prioritize increasing my revenue over reducing my cost. I watch my income, and then I watch my expense.”
When you show your commitment to the task and get your people excited about it too, good things will happen.
“You have to enroll and subscribe people into that mission statement,” Kleinberger says. “If you do it, they will be happy to jump in and assist to make it happen.” ●
- Get people who believe.
- Don’t fear mistakes.
- Invest in your business.
The Kleinberger File
Name: Amit Kleinberger
Title: CEO and founding partner
Company: Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt
Born: Jerusalem, Israel. Immediately after my birth, we moved to South Africa and I spent my childhood in Johannesburg. That’s where I spent the first phase of my life. The second phase was in Israel and the third phase was in Los Angeles.
Education: I started going to Santa Monica College, and I actually dropped out in the first semester. Business was calling. I got the opportunity to start my first business while I was in college and immediately when I started, that business took off. I decided to part ways with college and head straight into the business world.
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
One would be a leader in the military who was my first commander. He taught me a very simple thing: ‘People don’t do what you tell them to do. They do what they want to do.’ He really led by example and understood leadership.
The second person is my father. My father instilled in me what I believe is the culture piece of business. He is one of the kindest people I know who always taught me to love, respect and care for people. And I mean everyone. It doesn’t matter if we know them or not.
What one person, past or present, would you most like to meet?
Steve Jobs had the ability to see things much earlier before they actually happened. That is intriguing to me because I believe being cutting edge in business is not only important, it’s critical. His vision was so interesting. I would really love to understand his process for seeing the things he saw.
How to reach: Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, (877) 696-3624 or www.menchies.com