Veteran franchisors share career lessons

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For franchise brands to grow, operators and their franchisors need to share clear expectations for one another

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For franchise brands to grow, operators and their franchisors need to share clear expectations for one another and align around common entrepreneurial values like creativity and tenacity, three veteran franchise executives said.

Jimmy John’s founder and chief executive Jimmy John Liautaud, Culver’s founder and chief executive Craig Culver and Sbarro chief executive Jim Greco shared many of the lessons they have learned during long careers in franchising at the Franchise Operators Presidents Panel at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago.

All three panelists said leading franchisees begins with setting the example at the top.

When he first started his 1,400-unit sandwich chain out of his garage in 1983 at age 19, Liautaud had yet to learn that lesson, he said.

“I didn’t know about leading by example,” Liautaud said. “I didn’t know it was the leader’s job to take the toughest tasks for himself and delegate the easiest ones to the people below you. I was the owner, working Monday and Tuesday day and Wednesday and Thursday night, and I smoked pot and drank beer Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

That management style lead to Liautaud’s first two employees quitting on him, leaving him no other choice but to work around the clock seven days a week to build his business, he said.

Before growing Culver’s to its current level of 451 locations, Craig Culver opened his first unit in 1984 with his father, George, and kept the restaurant going despite losing money the first year. His management team, including his wife and both parents, helped him through the tough start by working 16-hour days with him.

“Every leader needs people around him,” Culver said. “Every leader needs support. I had good enough people telling me, ‘Craig, somehow we’re going to get to the next day.’ Challenges don’t go away; they’re part of what we do.”

To lead by example, franchisors have to put the time into improving systems and recruiting the right franchisees, those who are active managers and not passive investors, Greco said.

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