Martin Sprock Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
While some may debate which tastes better — a burrito from Moe’s Southwest Grill or success — one thing Raving Brands Inc. Founder and CEO Martin Sprock won’t debate is how to do business in his restaurant chains, which include Moe’s, Boneheads and the Flying Biscuit Cafe. After unofficially being named “least likely to succeed” in high school, Sprock says he has far exceeded even his own mother’s expectations, so he feels obligated to make his 125 employees taste success as well. Smart Business spoke with this spicy CEO about how he gets his employee buy-in and drives his company’s success.

Be lean to grow. We run a very lean company. There’s enough gravy in the casserole to please everybody, so we don’t have to break it off and have somebody get the short end of the stick.

We have to make a living. We have to make a profit. If we don’t run it lean ourselves, every franchisor in the country scratches their head and says, ‘OK, well, how do we get more money? We’ve either got to grow more quickly, and that’s not always workable, or I’ve got to work my franchisees out of more money.’

It makes sense to live a little leaner — fly coach on airplanes. Split hotel rooms. Not make more than $50,000 on your salary — that’s including myself and haven’t since Day 1. Everything we do is frugal and works.

A lot of CEOs out there like to high-step, and they probably got a corner office with a lot of glass and oriental rugs and think they’re hot junk. I don’t play that game. We’re not too hung up on titles around here. We’re more like a law firm — a lot of partners that work together every day.

At the end of the day, we want our customers to be raving fans of ours. The bottom line is, if we’re not fair and we’re not lean and we’re not looking at the business the right way, we probably could make more money, but it wouldn’t be as long of a term project and long-lived. It’d be more short-lived, and more people would be unhappy with us.

Buy your buy-in from employees. I didn’t have to give too damn much advice — I gave them stock. They have to earn it over a five-year period of time, and once they’re vested, they’re full partners and they’ve got full benefits, but until then, they’ve got profit-sharing and the same percentage.

So many companies these days just pay people pretty well, but I think they’re using them. Unless you make somebody a partner, they’re not truly going to have job security or a future with that company long-term if they ever want to have a beach cottage or do other things or retire at a reasonably early age. I don’t have to say that much. Yes, I’ve strewn out my vision and told them all what I think about fairness and treating people well and running the best company and working your tail off and all the things I talk about, but it gets translated pretty easily, and you don’t have to say it too many times if you own a piece of that company. You just automatically think smartly like that.

If I was just trying to hire a bunch of people, I’d be explaining that every day till I was blue in the face. I just bought my buyin. I bought my people. It works.

Some of them are up at 6:30 and don’t go home till 11 at night. They’re warriors. They get it, and they’re the ones that get the increased amount of stock.

We’ve had to run a few off along the way that are bringing the other guys down. If you’re going to be lazy, and you’re not working your tail off, and you’re not going to work smarter and deliver, then the bottom line is you’re not meant for this company.

You have to pay the piper if it goes down. If this company goes down, I’ve got everything I got tied up into it. It’s a different ballgame, but I’m still willing to share because I want those guys to have the upside.

Everybody’s worked hard, and they deserve to share in the profitability and the ultimate stock of the company one day. I can’t count how many times people e-mail me and thank me, and I say, ‘No, thank you.’ It’s just a great feeling to have everybody in the deal with you, and it wouldn’t feel any better if I made twice as much money and didn’t share it with anybody.

Be blunt. I’m not all that political, and sometimes I may hurt your feelings, but I’ll certainly allow you to hurt my feelings. I’ll fly off the handle and call some idea a moron idea, but I fully expect you to say that to me, and if you don’t, you’re a yes person, and we don’t have yes people around.

We don’t want and encourage those people. We hire honest, hardworking people, but we don’t want yes folks because they’re just brown-nosing fools that aren’t going to get anywhere in life, especially in our company. They work well in another company because the CEO has some big ego.

Sit there and brainstorm, and you get to the damn crust of the problem, and find out exactly all the best ideas. I’ll throw out 10 ideas in a meeting, and eight may be the dumbest ideas ever, but then there’s that one nugget, and you wouldn’t have gotten the one nugget if I had been embarrassed, or we didn’t have some fun with it, or if the CEO yells at somebody and all of a sudden he’s uncomfortable because he can’t go back to me and call me bonehead.

I call people, and they call me, bonehead to my face and behind my back. We’re not full of ourselves. We just know we’re smart enough that people will bet on us, and the rest of it is up to us to work our tail off and hopefully make wise and fair decisions that will benefit everyone. Business is no more complicated than that.

I’ve just gotten to where I am because I work my tail off and was honest with people. If you just absolutely give your word to anybody and never break it, and you do more than you need to do per the contract, you’re going to win.

HOW TO REACH: Raving Brands Inc.,