Education: Bachelor of science degree, mechanical engineering, U.S. Naval Academy; MSA, information technology, George Washington University
First job: Working on a sheep farm doing the most disgusting jobs you can imagine
1979-1982, vice president of operations and vice president of human resources, Sambos Restaurants Inc.; 1984-1986, vice president, Popeyes; 1986-1993, vice president of operations services, Taco Bell Corp.; 1993-1994, senior vice president, Boston Chicken Inc.; 1994-1996, executive vice president, Perkins Family Restaurants; 1996-2002, president, chief operating officer and board member, Sonic Corp. & Subsidiaries; 2002-2004, president, co-CEO and board member, Noodles & Co.; 2004-present, president, Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits; Sept. 1, 2005, named CEO, Popeyes
What is the greatest business lesson you’ve learned?
The best lesson I’ve ever learned is how to manage the pace of change. I’ve been accused by my wife and she’s probably right that I relish chaos and change.
And one of the things I have learned over time is that you have to manage change at the pace that other folks can accept the change. You can’t dictate the pace.
The corollary is called the slow-moving bullet. You clarify what you want to do in terms of where you’re going to go, what you’re going to change, and you give people time to resist because people are naturally resistant to change.
Eventually, they can accommodate the change as they get comfortable with it, and before they know it, the bullet strikes and you’re six months down the pike where you said you were going to do the change.
What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
I may be in the midst of the biggest business challenge I’ve ever faced. One of the major challenges that we’ve had at Popeyes is our franchisees are good people, and for a long time, maybe forever, they’ve had very little guidance and support from the franchisor.
It was pretty much a situation where, as long as they were approximating what it was Popeyes wanted them to do and they were paying their royalties and their fees, they were getting a lot of freedom in terms of how they wanted to run their business.
Unfortunately, a lot of those folks are not QSR experts and haven’t had a lot of formal training in marketing, have not had experience in other systems and operations or other areas a lot of situations where they needed more help and more guidance.
We had a lot of things that we needed to do here to really move this company forward raising the bar in operations, putting in measurements so franchisees could see how they performed against everybody else, menu consistency, aligning the marketing message. The biggest challenge that I’ve had is simply to overcome people’s natural concerns about yielding some control, willingness to get them aligned around the same objectives and goals, and be a unifying force for all of our operators so that we can move this brand forward together.
Whom do you admire most in business and why?
There are a couple of folks that I admire. I’ve always had a great deal of admiration for Norman Brinker, the Steak & Ale guy and founder of Chili’s, and now he has Brinker Corp., which is a multiconcept company. The thing I admired most about him was his ability to identify what was important about these concepts and to leave behind what wasn’t important.
He also had a tremendous talent for finding good people, giving them a lot of authority and room to grow, and allowed them to become successful in a lot of different areas.