Carl Chang brings his passion and energy to everything he does. He helped his younger brother Michael become the youngest man to ever win a Grand Slam singles title in tennis, coaching the 17-year-old to victory in the 1989 French Open.
Now he’s applying his leadership talent as the founder and CEO at Pieology Pizzeria, which launched in 2011 and had 55 units open as of April 2015.
One of the keys to Chang’s success is the fact that he always has the bigger picture in view.
“The foundation of why I started Pieology was I wanted something I could share with my family, friends and others in the community,” Chang says. “If it’s only about making as much money as you possibly can, it loses meaning and purpose pretty quickly.”
Pieology offers customers “personally inspired pizzas in unlimited flavor combinations that are stone-oven fired in less than three minutes.” Guests choose from eight signature sauces and more than 30 fresh meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs and spices. They can then add “Flavor Blast” sauces including fiery buffalo, pesto and barbecue.
Each custom pizza — with unlimited toppings — is always $8 or less.
“We spent quite a bit of time, energy and money creating our own proprietary flour,” Chang says. “Everyone else is using a stock product. This is our blend; our recipe and something that we’ve put through quite a bit of testing.”
When it comes to the pizzas that customers create, Chang says he and his team encourage people to use their imaginations.
“We want to be the local family dining experience where you get to be whoever you want and design whatever you want,” Chang says. “We get customers who come in and build a 7-pound pie. And we’ll celebrate that and laugh about it. More often than not, we’ll even bet their pizza doesn’t come out quite the way they want it and buy them another one for free. Helping people feel welcome and never intimidated is an important factor.”
A family affair
Creating an environment where managers, employees and customers can be themselves and feel at home takes effort.
“When everything is working well, and everybody is supportive and team-oriented, that really works,” Chang says. “When you bring in perhaps the wrong temperament or make the wrong judgment on an individual, if you don’t resolve it quickly, it can create a lot of problems. And then that culture becomes fragile.”
The challenge grows when you’re a rapidly growing business that has to quickly add new employees to fill your new locations.
“As you grow quickly, you have less time to get to know people,” Chang says. “So it becomes a balance of priorities. As much as I have to get the administrative aspects of my job done, I also need to make time to stay in touch with people and connect with them, check in on them. If it sounds like there is a party going on every day, that’s usually a pretty good sign.”
Chang says good leaders share in the wins and figure out the losses together. So many businesses fall apart because when problems occur, people start searching for someone to blame. When you promote a family-oriented culture in your organization, you stand a better chance of avoiding that fate.
“If you have family support and buy-in whether it’s your immediate family, your friends or your social network, I think it just encourages a much more positive outlook on life and that translates into your everyday life,” Chang says. “That’s really important to me.”
Find your passion
When it comes to finding the right people to bring into the fold at Pieology, Chang looks for passion.
“What gets you excited every day?” Chang asks, referring to one of the questions he likes to ask potential employees. “What moves you? What motivates you? What brings you to tears? What makes you laugh? I’m always interested to see how a person feels, how a person thinks and where their heart is. I also like to ask, If you had the ability to change something in the world, what would that be?
“So I tend to get a bit more philosophical in my questioning. I think inherently, a person’s soul and character, if they’re in a place where they’re motivated by something, something that’s very emotional, that in itself is a true gift. That’s something that can be grown and encouraged, especially for what we want to accomplish at Pieology.”
Chang doesn’t like to talk about himself as a leader, but he does admit that the coaching he did prior to getting into the restaurant business has helped him be a stronger leader.
“I want to continue to be a good encourager of people,” Chang says. “A lot of people work hard, and sometimes they work so hard that they fall out of life balance. As a coach, I want to make sure everybody has good life balance.”
Chang has big plans for Pieology and its continued growth, but the expansion won’t come at the cost of a strong culture.
“We want to know that our franchise partners have alignment, that they understand what the mission statement is and understand what differentiates Pieology from the rest of the groups that are trying to be like us,” Chang says. “We understand that being profitable is important, but equally, if not more important, is maintaining our culture.” ●