I thought I would take an opportunity to share a bit about my past and my journey as it relates to my series on the three main attributes of hungry, humble and smart and how they have shaped my life and career path. Everyone has a story and I believe in our lives there are a few key moments that define our future that we don’t even realize until we look back at how it all unfolds.
- The biggest strength of the three that I have had ever since I was young was hunger. Even as a little boy when I was young my father was pulling me out of bed by my big toe bright and early every morning. If it wasn’t for school, it was to help him do yard work or even worse, shoveling snow from our 1/2 mile long driveway by hand. He taught me from an early age that if I wanted something I had to work and earn it. My parents were also very humble people so I learned this quality as well from a young age.
- After high school I went to culinary school and became a chef. With hunger driving me, I ended up becoming a chef at the highest rated restaurant in Wisconsin by the time I was 25. The downside to becoming a chef was the lifestyle. All of my humbleness and smarts went out the window. As a chef, I was taught that it was all about the food and the people didn’t matter. For people that think Hell’s Kitchen is fake, I can say that it is quite normal. I actually laugh some days when I watch that show and think how easy the people have it on the show. Kicking, yelling, swearing, throwing plates was a normal night during my training.
- Fast forward to my first business opportunity. My hunger and drive was able to get me an opportunity to be a partner in my first restaurant in Alabama in 2000. I worked crazy hours, seven days a week to get the store off the ground. It started off as a huge success and we even opened a second location. The problem was all I was operating on was hunger and having two locations made it impossible for me to run both at the same time. I didn’t care at all about the people. I put zero importance on humble and smart. Needless to say I had high turnover and terrible guest service. Even though we had amazing food, the sales eventually dropped and we had to close our doors.
- I ended up opening a wholesale Italian Ice business with a partner that had a lot of humble and a lot of smart attributes. As we would go to trade shows, I learned that every sale that we made may have started with tasting the product but it wasn’t closed until we had built the relationship. Some sales took over a year to close and that only came by building the relationship with the customer like learning about their children and favorite hobbies.
- The next step in my journey was having children. If you ever want to find a sure way to humble yourself, have children. I quickly learned that I needed to use my humble and smart qualities to even stand a chance at being a parent. Parenting, like leadership, is about influence more than it is about the power of your position. If you have influence your children will do what is right because it is right, not just because you said so. Having a family and mouths to feed increased my hunger once again so I decided to take a leap back into the restaurant business.
- Then I got involved with Culver’s. As I went through my training process, I was impressed with a very unique feel that every Culver’s has right when you walk in. I couldn’t really put my finger on it at first but the more I would talk to people within Culver’s, it was clear that the focus was on the people. As I learned the hard way in Alabama you cannot lead people with hunger alone. I watched Craig Culver and was amazed how he seemed to know everyone and treat everyone like they were family. From a day one team member all the way up to a vice president in the company, to him they were all equally important. This led me to learn as much as I could about servant leadership. I joined an audio book club and started to listen to as many leadership books as I could when I was in the car. I credit this time in my life as how I was able to really round out all three of these qualities.
- I then formed a great partnership with Brian who was an experienced Culver’s operator and together we opened my first Culver’s in Chandler, AZ. I made a promise to myself when I opened the doors that I was going to do everything I could to put the people first. Treat both the guests and the team members alike. I was committed to a top line approach to business where I would make my decisions based on how they would impact our sales and guest retention. We even started a policy in our store where it takes two people to say no to a guest but only one to say yes. The small cost that some decisions carry can have a 10X impact on long term sales and eventual profitability. The easiest way to increase the bottom line is to increase the top line.
- To sum it all up, I would say that my hunger can get me an opportunity and drive me through any obstacles to achieve the desired outcome. My smarts help put me in a position where I was able to meet the right people and form the right partnership to help me succeed in the Culver’s model. Over the past year I have really focused on improving my humble qualities and I can say that I have never been happier. I feel that as I have been able to shape and improve all three of the qualities my success has blossomed. I am not by any means close to perfect but every day I wake up with the goal to be a better version of myself today than I was yesterday. I have learned to only compare myself to myself.
- After reading this series of posts, ask yourself what area is holding you back from achieving your goals and dreams. When someone really focuses on all three of these qualities, they become unstoppable.