The Don File Featured

9:42am EDT February 26, 2004
Born: 1965 in Chicago

Education: B.S., University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, 1987; MBA, Kellogg School of Management, 1992

First job: Caddy at Northmore Country Club

Career moves: Worked at division of JMB Realty Corp., 1987-1988; investment banker, Salomon Brothers, 1988-1989. Joined Edward Don & Co. in August 1992 as a sales rep.; became district sales manager; operations manager in Atlanta 1994-1996; vice president of business of development in 1996; COO in 1998. Named CEO January 2002.

Boards: Food Service Equipment Distribution Association, Kellogg School of Management Alumni Advisory Board

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?

Ours is a family business. While you're trying to make change, don't forget what brought you to where you are. We've changed a lot, but we also preserved everything because there's a ton of good stuff here.

We've been in business 83 years. We've tried to make positive change when also making sure we've preserved all the quality and history that got us to where we are today.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?

When you have 1,000 people in an organization, it's getting the message down throughout the organization. It's all about people. You can have the greatest plan in the world, but it's the people that get it accomplished.

We spend a lot of time having update meetings with our employees. We then get together four times a year with our management team and go over our results.

I took over right after Sept. 11. It's been challenging, but it's been rewarding. When you put a plan in place, you see the people that you work with execute that plan and see all of that come to fruition. It's easy to come up with a plan; it's getting people to execute it that is the tough part.

The biggest surprise has been the economy. From 1992 to 2002, it had been a boom economy for us. Most of the people in my management team had never seen any kind of downturn. For us, when the bubble burst, I don't think a lot of people saw it coming.

Whom do admire most in business and why?

Ray Kroc. He started out as a Multimix salesman. He actually sold the milkshake machine.

Then the McDonald's brothers in California bought (the machines) from him, and he went to California, saw what they were doing, and bought the company for almost no money.

Howard Schultz from Starbucks pretty much did the same thing. He was selling kitchenwares, and the guys from Starbucks -- they didn't even brew coffee in the first Starbucks -- they were just selling coffee beans.