The Brooks file Featured

5:10am EDT October 29, 2004

Born: Feb. 6, 1937, Conway, S.C.

Education: Bachelor of science degree, Clemson University

First Job: Working in a dairy, Gastonia, N.C.

Career moves: Worked in dairy sales, food equipment sales; called to serve in the U.S. Army during the Berlin Crisis; Germantown Manufacturing Co. (a food formula company); started his own company, formed Eastern Foods, which became Naturally Fresh Foods, in Atlanta in 1967; became a part of Hooters in 1984

Resides: Myrtle Beach (commutes once a week)

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?
Never underestimate the power of the consumer. Don't ever tell a customer what he wants. Provide what he asks for at a price at which you can make a profit. If you tell him what he wants, at any price, you're going to tick him off.

What is the greatest business challenge you've ever faced, and how did you overcome it?
I've had a couple of them. One of them was a union and one was a bank. Don't let them get to you. Run your ship, which sometimes is tough.

Banks are cold; they have no personality, just a function. They can only do what the law says they can do, regardless of how well-meaning you are. Unless the numbers show exactly what they're supposed to show, they don't value people. At some point you have to say, 'OK, you want to run it. Can you do a better job than I'm doing?'

The banks are the first one to run and stick their heads in the sand when things look a little bad. They never lost a dollar, and we're good friends now. We didn't burn any bridges; we just rode out the storm.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
I never thought much about that; I really don't know. There are certainly a lot of people to be respected. I guess I respect CEOs today, all of them, because they get no praise. CEOs are expected to pat everybody on the back and say, 'Great job.'

Nobody comes around to the boss and says, 'You're doing a good job.' It's awful lonely out there. It's tough to be a CEO or even a director today. So, my hat's off to most of them.