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In our latest "Ask the President" blog with Stevi B's president Matthew V. Loney, we asked how hands-on the executive level leadership major pizza companies should be with their customers and franchisees. The exposure works well for small restaurant concepts, but how does it scale up – if at all?

Matthew Loney: The simple answer to this question is that every executive should be hands-on with their customers, restaurant employees and/or franchisees.  However, as a franchisor or multi-unit company grows, the amount of hours in a week, month or even a year that an executive can spend with their customers, restaurant employees and/or franchisees drastically decreases.  At a certain stage, time devoted to meetings with board members, lenders, and internal committees (marketing, prototype, site selection, new product development, operations, etc.), increases to the point that an executive simply does not have the time that he or she once did for hands-on involvement.  But an executive neglects this at the risk of losing their vision for the company, and unfortunately, just because the time to be hands-on decreases does not mean that the need for hands-on leadership also decreases.

This natural stress point reinforces the importance of the hiring process, especially during times of company growth.  By hiring department heads that understand, adopt and can implement the executive’s vision, that leader is effectively cloning himself or herself, thereby ensuring that the vision of the executive for the company is carried throughout all levels of the organization.

Additionally, just because an executive is unable to spend the time he or she once could with restaurant employees, customers, and franchisees does not mean that a dialogue cannot be achieved. But it may take a little more planning and effort to accomplish.  In our organization, we have achieved this via small “town hall” style meetings that enable executives to meet with franchisees throughout the year to discuss questions, suggestions and concerns facing the franchise community. 

Additionally, the annual company and/or franchise conferences should be organized so as to provide as many of these hands-on experiences as possible (consider two or three dinners with small groups of franchisees and/or general managers).  For employees, a national employee of the month award, along with the annual dinner with the CEO for the 12 recipients, might be another way to allow for the executive to spend quality time with the restaurant employees without major time investments.  And finally, an executive should look to the internet for effective consumer interaction, either through online web meetings presented to some of the company’s more loyal customers or simply though Facebook and Twitter.

In the end, it is important to remember that a restaurant system cannot be run entirely behind a desk and that any successful executive will find new and innovative ways to interact with his restaurant employees, consumers and/or franchisees.  Remember, your employees and/or franchisees are the face of your brand on a day-to-day basis and conversations and time spent with them will help to ensure that the “brand treasures” that have helped your company grow will continue to be implemented going forward.

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Matthew Loney
As president of Stevi B's Pizza, Matthew V. Loney is taking a small pizza buffet concept from a promising regional brand to a leading national franchised system.
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