Growing up

 Times were tough for Big Boy Restaurants International LLC when Anthony Michaels became its CEO in 2000.

With the company heading toward Chapter 11, it was Michaels’ job to put together a financial book and try to find a buyer for the struggling company. After successfully hurdling that challenge, he took on the mission of engineering a comeback for the restaurant chain.

Six years later, the company is signing franchise contracts in Florida, California and Las Vegas, and has reached revenue, not including franchisees, of $60 million.

Smart Business spoke with Michaels about how he handle challenges, empowers employees and forms a team.


How do you face challenges?
Be real with the team. Let them know you are part of a team. There’s no throne. They have to feel they are part of the decision-making process.

I try to make myself fully accessible and make sure we meet on a regular basis. If we are not hitting our numbers, why are we not hitting those numbers? We go through those things and figure out how we get to that so we can change in midstream if need be.

You have to remain somewhat flexible. You’ve got to listen to the issues that come up. Are sales up, are sales down, or are costs up? You are hit with so many issues, you have to be able to trust the people running the department, and everyone has to be on the same page.


What is your decision-making process?
I welcome input from all areas. I make sure I bring in all the people involved and literally go around and let everyone give their thoughts, their input, their reasoning and what decisions they would go with.

But you can’t get caught up and you can’t get mind melted. Some major decisions call for some more major thought. But I refuse to sit and make a decision on my own without input from the people involved.

Everything I do, I try to go full circle, the highs and the lows, and then come to a decision.


What do you do when the decision is wrong?
We move on. We figure out how to fix it and realize that it wasn’t the right way to go. We pull everyone in and tell them we made this decision to go this way, and it didn’t turn out to be the right way.

Now, let’s make a decision on where we go from here. Don’t let it bog you down. Don’t let it kill you.

Because every decision affects maybe two or four or five different parties, you’ve got to stretch that major decision out and see how far it’s going and how many groups are really affected.


How do you roll with the changes?
You have to understand what business you are in. You can’t get caught up in ‘every little thing is a disaster.’

Let’s say there is a big snowstorm in Michigan and stores are doing nothing because there’s 15 inches. Understand it’s happening. Deal with it. Get everyone to understand this happens and to keep your head up. ‘Hey the power went out at X units. OK, how quickly did we move to get generators in?’

Let’s always go from the positive side of downturns. I’m sure, at times, a different signal comes across, but you realize you did it and you pull back. If you don’t keep the team pumped, then it doesn’t trickle from the team right through the company.


What do you look for in employees?
The ability to be proactive and the ability to treat their area like they own it — like it’s their business. They have to make certain decisions and work certain things out that wouldn’t even come to my desk. They are able to because they own it, they run it, they believe in it [so] that they can make things happen on a daily basis.

You have to get the people who believe that you believe in them. If you have fearful people worried all the time, then they are not striking on all cylinders.

They need to know they are on this team, and I travel the high and low roads with them. If somebody is not doing the job, then those things have to be dealt with.


What pitfalls should be avoided in business?
Listening to people’s opinions and not getting the hard facts. Everybody seems to have an opinion or grapevine information. Make your decision based on the facts.

Opinion, when it is asked for, is all right. But what are you basing that opinion on? Dig deeper and you are able to make better decisions.

Tell me why you made that statement and back it up. Then you are able to make better decisions.


HOW TO REACH: Big Boy Restaurants International LLC, (586) 759-6000 or