Complex problems are best solved by simple, if sometimes difficult approaches. The most important of these is getting good people and respecting their work. [more]
This Irish kid from Ashtabula has been in some cool places over the years, but none any better than yesterday.
It is early evening in Nashville, North Carolina. I'm sitting in a rocker watching the sunset on the porch of a lovely anti-bellum mansion.
On one side of me is Mayo Boddie, Sr., the almost 80 year old founder of Bod die-Noell Enterprises which is the largest (350 Hardee's restaurants) franchise company in the USA.
On my other is Todd Graves, 37 year old founder of the fast-growing 81 store chain, Raising Cane's.
And I realized - I'm sitting in between generations of entrepreneurs. Real successful ones: the younger with over 3,000 people in his employ; the elder tens of thousands. Most of those in their employ live on the margins.
I asked Mayo what got him started.
He said, "I was in my early thirties and I'd kicked around a lot of jobs and by 1962 I had three small oil stations. A friend of mine, Jim Gardner, told me about Wilber Hardee's restaurant in Greenville. Wilber was making a lot of money selling 15 cent hamburgers. I thought that was pretty funny.
But we went and took a look, and by golly, they were making a ton of money and it was all cash while my oil business was in credit.
Anyway, Wilber didn't want to expand so Jim and Leonard Rawls ended up buying the franchise from him for a Lincoln Continental and some money. They asked me to buy a franchise for $500 and start a store in Fayetteville while they started opening stores here in Rocky Mount.
After that, Fayetteville was successful for me. All that was left was to figure out how to become an absentee owner."
"Well, I guess I could make it sound smarter, and it sure was a lot of hard work, but mainly it was figuring out how to control the inventory, find good people, then show them some respect.
Once I got to five stores, I thought: 'Man this could work out pretty well if I get good at it,' and so we got to building lots of stores. But I never had a goal for number of stores and I still don't - I just focus on getting good dignified people and keeping good controls.
It seems to work out."
Did either of you have any family money to start with?
Both laughed and Todd proceeded to tell his story of working in college at Guthrie's, a local landmark in Athens, Georgia, that served only fresh, hand breaded chicken fingers.
"After I got out of school, I wanted to return to Baton Rouge where I'm from and open a Guthrie's in front of Louisiana State University, but Mr. Guthrie didn't franchise and no bank would back us.
So my partner and I spent a year working - me as a boilermaker in a refinery in Los Angeles and then both of us camped out and worked on the salmon boats in Bristol Bay, Alaska - to save the money to start the business.
We opened our first Raising Cane's in an old bicycle shop on Highland Avenue a half block from LSU in 1997."
So, what was your goal?
"Serve great chicken and get lots of customers by doing the same things Mr. Boddie is saying - use good controls and find great people who will treat each other well."
I just marvel at the success these two men have attained through simplicity of focus. Separated by forty years and a thousand miles, they are following a very similar and simple formula that we might learn from, too.
"Guys, the restaurant business is so complex today, there is so much more to worry about," I said.
And they said that there is indeed much more to the business, of course. This led to discussing the state of the current arts such as marketing, accounting and technology in the restaurant business.
"But worrying is for fools," said Mayo. "It never made any sense to me.
Now, concern? That's different. I get concerned often but it has to lead to action, not drama.
Worrying is just adding drama to concern and it doesn't get you anywhere."
What are you and I worrying about today?
What complex problem in our businesses of good seems to be overwhelming us?
Take it from Mayo and Todd, the best response to a complex business (of good) problem is to make sure we are finding good people, creating good controls and building a respectful workplace.
Author's Note: Mayo and Todd do "the business of good" in my opinion by employing thousands with dignity in a business not known for it - restaurants. But it's also good to note that my pass to the Rose Hill Plantation was purchased at Mayo's annual fund raiser for the East Carolina Boy Scouts. Mayo and his brother Nick have raised millions for Scouting. And my visit with Todd, who was the lead in the first episode of Fox's "Secret Millionaire" reality show last year for his work in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, was to counsel him on forming his new foundation. These are not just successful entrepreneurs but also (with us) players in the for-profit and the non-profit "business of good."