Huddle House CEO tells Crain’s why top-performing executive team is crucial.
Crain’s recently featured Huddle House CEO Michael Abt in its recurring column “If I Knew Then,” which explores how mistakes help shape philosophies in the business world. The article, by writer Drew Smith, is excerpted below:
In one of my earlier opportunities, around 1999, I was promoted to vice president of a new business region for Arby’s restaurants, which included Phoenix, Salt Lake, Portland and Seattle. I tried to run the business by myself. In other words, I tried to manage everything around people who just were not strong enough in certain positions.
I spent an unbelievable amount of time visiting and coaching general managers in 128 restaurants. I should have recognized much sooner that I did not have the right person in certain positions. I would manage around that person, not even through them.
Instead of trying to turn around 128 restaurants myself, I should have spent more time early on assessing the capabilities of my team and then evaluating whether I needed to upgrade. I have carried that lesson with me and have spent most of my time on the front end of assignments trying to understand the organization and the capabilities of the people who are running the business. This allows me to identify whether I need to bring on stronger people to help the team achieve its goals.
This lesson helped me early on at Huddle House, where I recognized that to achieve the strategies we established, I needed to have better people. In my first year with the company, we upgraded the chief marketing officer, chief development officer, chief operating officer, human resources and training, and the corporate chef culinary positions.
Now, four years later, our company is healthier than it has been in 50 years, our sales and profits are higher than they have ever been, and we are selling more franchises than we ever have. It is not because of me—it’s because of the capabilities of these top performers we have brought on to really bring ownership to their area of the business. Whether it’s marketing operations, franchise development, or human resources and training, they really run their own business. I know this is cliché, but I think that great people are your greatest asset.
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