Aylwin Lewis is a seasoned business leader with decades of experience in the restaurant industry. Before retiring in 2017, Aylwin was the Chief Executive Officer for multiple companies including Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Kmart, and Sears. He also spent four years as the Chief Operating Officer for Yum! Brands, which includes KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. Additionally, he has served on the board of directors for The Walt Disney Company, Red Robin, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and Marriott International.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Aylwin Lewis describes his original role at Jack in the Box and the incident that showed him the importance of comprehensive training
- Aylwin’s fundamental values: integrity, teamwork, accountability, communication, curiosity, and perseverance
- How Aylwin cultivated a positive work culture at Potbelly Sandwich Shop
- The surprising experience that taught Aylwin to lead with understanding
- Why you should ensure that your values and your potential employer’s values align
- Aylwin’s advice to current leaders in the restaurant industry
- Major milestones in Aylwin’s life
- Aylwin shares his daily rituals and the mentors that had the greatest impact on his career
In this episode…
Most people have worked jobs they dreaded showing up to every day. So what makes or breaks a company’s culture? Is it the clients, the other employees, or the actual work?
Seasoned restaurant business leader Aylwin Lewis says that people don’t quit companies — they leave bosses. If your leader is unstable or lacks certain characteristics, the business doesn’t have a shot. Instead, employees respect a leader who is steady under stress, who can calmly coach new employees, and who upholds their fundamental values. So, how can you improve the leadership at your restaurant business?
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen is joined by Aylwin Lewis, former COO of Yum! Brands and restaurant industry leader, to talk about cultivating a positive workplace culture. Aylwin shares the fundamental lessons that shaped his professional work values, the experiences that taught him to become a more compassionate leader, and his advice for steering a company through any crisis.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here, co-host for this show where we feature top restauranteurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail. And they have a flagship solution called SpotOn restaurant where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partners through done for you podcasts. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients referral partners and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing to learn more, go to rise25media.com or email us at email@example.com. Before he retired in 2017, Aylwin Lewis served as chief executive officer of Potbelly Sandwich Works for more than nine years. During that time he led the drive to take Potbelly public, which happened in 2013. Prior to Potbelly, he had been CEO of Kmart for a year until it merged with Sears and then was CEO of Sears Holdings for three years. For years before that he was chief operating officer for Yum! Brands, which includes KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and that’s after serving as CEO of Pizza Hut. He’s also served on the board of directors for the Walt Disney Company, Red Robin Burgers, Starwood Hotel and Resorts, Marriott International, Kmart, Sears Holdings, and Potbelly Sandwich Works. He started his career with Jack in the Box in 1977. Mr. Lewis, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Aylwin Lewis 1:57
Yeah, thank you for, for giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Chad Franzen 2:04
Great, thank you. It’s my pleasure. So you obviously have a very distinguished career and incredible story. If you could tell me a little bit about what your life was like growing up who and what helped prepare you for such an amazing professional journey.
Aylwin Lewis 2:17
A born and raised in Houston, Texas. The son of Albert and St. Louis working class folks. You know, raised in church, so got good values there. My father was superintendent a Sunday school was a deacon. So we’re very active in the church, mom really stressed the importance of education, and was very value based, being independent and self reliant, a ton of emphasis on education, doing things the right way. And so a big part of my motivation was not disappointing. My parents ever, never want to do anything to make them ashamed of me. The other big motivation was just trying to do the right things. And my mom was always, she said, I don’t care what you are, what you decide to be, just do your best don’t back up to the pay window. And so that was very important. First 10 years, we’re in projects across the street from CUNY homes across the street from CSU. And we moved into our home in South Houston, southeast Houston, and public schools, University of Houston, ba, ba and a BS with grad school, you, you University of Washington for a period, carry MBA from University of Houston later in my career, and then a master’s in human resource management. So I might my motto was, show up and be prepared. And the persona that I’ve always thought of myself as as a student going through life, and so, you know, always in the business of acquiring knowledge, so that could help drive your activities.
Chad Franzen 4:04
What was it about the restaurant industry that was particularly appealing to you?
Aylwin Lewis 4:09
Oh, I spent a year at the University of Washington. I was in Literature Department working on degree and went home for summer, I had a business degree, never thought I’d use it. Fortunately, got hired by Jack in the Box, I was just going to work for the summer, you know, fill my bank account up and go back and finish the degree. And within a week of getting to management training program, I was just enthralled one with the notion of an opportunity to run a million dollar business. serving customers were was was was really amazing to me, I had never worked in customer service. And then the real thing was the ability to help people that wanted to help themselves and so in a restaurant industry, retail you kind of deal with under representative folks, folks that can help Behind, if they’re willing to learn, they’re willing to work hard. The restaurant business really where you could climb the rungs of success in this economic environment and in society. And so that was very appealing to me. Then the other thing was peeling, I always got a gene for teaching. And so a big part of being in restaurant business was knowing, teaching was a way to engage people to help people learn. And so it satisfies a lot of needs. And so the restaurant industry, for me was a combination of, you know, economically helping myself, but also giving back in a real way and helping people at once to help themselves and barriers of entry was very low. And again, the premium was on hard work, serving people well, having values. And so that’s I kind of stumbled into it didn’t go back to the degree, I was put on a leave of absence for a year, and just fell in love with the business. And so kind of started there.
Chad Franzen 6:00
So you were at the University of Washington, and you said, you had a business degree that you’d never really planned on using? Well, what did you have a plan that you would change.
Aylwin Lewis 6:09
I got a double major, so a BA in literature and a BS in business. And so I was gonna be a college professor read Great American novels and teach literature. And so that’s the path I was on. And it’s, you know, it’s a very stuffy state environment. And sort of restaurant business to high energy and fast food, but you know, it was the middle 76, 77. And it was just high energy, it was fast paced, it was exciting to adrenaline rush, rush, I was an athlete, fairly decent athlete in high school. So it brought that back. So having stamina, having the energy pumping people up working around people, it was just fascinating. I just, and I just absolutely just fell in love with it. And you know, and I tell people that this business has to be a passion because we extend ourselves, and we work when other folks are off. And so if you are looking for kind of a nine to five steady type of deal, restaurant business, not yet, but if you love helping people you love serving high quality food, if you love serving customers, and it’s the thing of beauty is when restaurants really work. It really is.
Chad Franzen 7:27
So what did you do? What did you do specifically at Jack in the Box when you first got there and your first job?
Aylwin Lewis 7:34
So I was assist trainee? So was that a training restaurant have learned business? You know, the manual part of it, making all the products working on stations, and then you know, that the accounting part inventory, scheduling, and, you know, I had, you know, what, what I learned was, I pulled out some of the things I learned from a Business School of Planning, organizing the work, you know, having meetings with the management team, engaging the management team, so that that stuff early on, just just just really served me well. And then once I got, you know, out of that single unit, it was multi unit, I went back and got a degree in manage resources. So a master so I had, I was predisposed toward doing things well around people and understanding people. But that degree gave me real tools to accelerate on how to develop individuals had development, organization, importance of organized training, that the importance of a leadership model of a coaching model. And so, you know, it, it was just, I was in the business for 40 years, I loved every minute of it. And my mission was to see how far I could go. When a lot of people that look like me into business. Could I pushed the envelope at every door I entered. I wanted to make sure I made it easier for people following me. So whatever I you know, I remember so here’s an example that the first day of training, the training manager sat us down, train some spices down. And he’s Mr. Bland. He says, Listen, I’m going to train you on everything. And you’re not gonna be put in a situation that you haven’t been well trained for. So you say was pretty good. So the second day, lunch comes. He said, y’all got to go on the floor because the restaurant short staff, and I get put on the taco station. I have never seen a taco. I never made a taco. I always said I’m sitting there. I get orders for 12 Tacos. And I had no clue it it’s so then the manager Vicki started yelling that. It was a mess. I dropped the tacos edition just came over just get out of the way. I felt an inch small. Now I was college educated. You know, I’ve been a capital football team at accomplishing things. And I felt the inch spa because I had customers looking at me had employees looked at me as read de force like okay, one I’m never gonna be in this situation again, but I’m never going to put anybody in situation where they’re filling that small. And so that that was kind of the orientation. So it’s like you want, you don’t want to put people in a situation where it’s going to hurt their self esteem, you do want to make sure people are prepared, even if at the expense of you and a team, you never want to put a new person in a situation, they don’t know how to handle it. So day one, it was make sure people train, make sure they the orientation goes through, make sure to have a time to read the manual and learn before you put them into that into the act.
Chad Franzen 10:35
What was it given that experience that you had, you know, a lot of a lot of young people might be like, I’m out of here, I don’t need to deal with all this. What made you decide to you know, stick through, stick through it and, you know, build from that experience and build on what you had learned and even do the opposite of how that person treated you.
Aylwin Lewis 10:55
Never quit. So even if it listen, I at that time, it was a short term deal. So it’s like, I’m gonna only be here for summer so I can get through this. That was my goal, but I wasn’t a quitter. And it’s like, in every situation, no matter how bad it is, you get a chance to come back tomorrow and start a new, that’s the beauty of the restaurant business is that, you know, that I used to, I used to I used to say my my strikeout gets me closer to my next home run, that the interception get me closer to the next touchdown. And so just part of the training part of being an athlete part of being a student, it’s like, nothing’s gonna deter me from my dream that’s gonna make me run away from this. Let’s conquer it. And so that’s kind of the orientation I had.
Chad Franzen 11:41
You talked about your growing up, how kind of you had some some values instilled in you? What are some of those, you know, specific values that you kind of cling to, and that were particularly valuable during your career?
Aylwin Lewis 11:54
Integrity. Number one, your word is your bond. You promise something, you don’t steal, you don’t lie. You integrity, the most important thing it helps build trust hard work. No matter what. No one was gonna outwork me, bless with the stamina. So you know, you bring your lunch pail, you don’t back up to the pay window. Teamwork, once I got into the restaurant environments, just obvious individualize performance does not lead to success. So how do you work with a team? How do you lead a team? So teamwork, accountability, being able to say if something is wrong, it’s my fault. And when your team leader, you give them all the credit for success. And if you have failure, you take the failure. Communication is very key. And so that that was early on, it’s like, how do you communicate? But I can’t I was in grad school, I was in literature major. Yeah, yeah, I was getting ready to start on a dissertation, at a million dollar vocabulary. I came up with all these flowery words, but he like, if they don’t understand what you’re saying, if they can’t read what you’re saying, then what’s the purpose so that the whole the whole communication, then the other thing is just being a learner, being curious, understanding the environment, understanding how to excel in the environment, so those are just key and perseverance, there’s, you know, the first sign of trouble, he don’t let that, that you don’t let that deter you. And in that environment, in restaurant environment, if you have a victim mentality, it will slap you, it will victimize you. So you have you cannot have a victim mentality, you have to have a towel up mentality of be prepared. You know, the one things I used to always do is I go I drive to work in the morning, I say, Okay, what at play to what, what if gay, and I thought about, and worst thing, if you if your general managers, no one shows up? What do I do? Once you have a contingency plan for the worst thing that could happen to you that day, everything else is great. Everything else is great. So that those core values, but go starts with integrity, and that that serves you well. And I think when you have values centered, it allows you to be situational, because you have a touchstone that helps guide you through what’s White was wrong, and what your principles are, then you can apply your ability and your experience to the situation. And I always pride myself being very, very situational.
Chad Franzen 14:23
Was it just as important? You know, those are some key fundamental values. Was it just as important to cling to those values when you are the, you know, you’re not just the general manager of one restaurant? You’re that’s the CEO of a major restaurant brand. Was it just as important to cling to those values then as it was when you’re working your way up?
Aylwin Lewis 14:42
Oh, absolutely. And more importantly, and I learned this from working with David Novak at Yum! Brands, you know, the importance of culture, and the importance of having values and being able to define those values in a real way. Use those values in the business and teach those facts So, you know, we develop, I worked with David from 95. I left in 2004. And, you know, culture just so important, and then teaching culture and cascaded down to the front line, which is so important. So, absolutely, I think it’s more important that you have to tap into me, it was an open invitation. And we have six core values at Potbelly. And it’s like, if I do these things, I’m inviting the rest of the company to do these things. And everybody has permission to call you out if they see you, not using one of the values, not really one of the values. And I think by going public, I walk and talk in a public way, it forces you to behave a certain way.
Chad Franzen 15:47
Yeah, I was just gonna ask you, how does that how does you know your behavior, maybe in the the main office trickle down to the frontlines?
Aylwin Lewis 15:56
Well, I think it’s everything. So every culture class that we taught, I taught the first class, because that and although we had training development, folks that develop curriculum, we always operationalized by the leaders teaching it to levels down. And that cascade CMS, this notion of, you can’t get up in front of people and talk about integrity. If you yourself, don’t act with integrity, you lose your credibility at that instance. So it forces you to walk the talk. And then I was always very, you know, field oriented, even as a CEO, I was 60% of time and feel. So first part week, I would be in the office doing meetings, following up on things, following up on strategy. And then the balance of the week was out in the field, seeing how close what we were espousing. How close was that happening at the counter with the food with the customers, and then coaching in a real time, and encouraging people to, you know, give their best.
Chad Franzen 17:00
So you’re obviously somebody who places a great deal of value on value is was there kind of like a passion of yours that you were always following? Or chasing even at multiple stops? On a high level?
Aylwin Lewis 17:11
Oh, yeah, no, I listen, every before we, you know, I learned how to do it. Working with David. I always every job I took the first meeting, I would have, it’s okay, here, my personal values, and I would list them. And I didn’t that’s the speech was if I do these things, I’m inviting you to do these things. And so be it. I think they have value. And it allows you to bring your whole self to work, it allows you to, then it allows people to self select, do they want to be here do they want to participate? And the language of the values, you know, we did the Potbelly values, you know, the management team and I went off for a week. And we, we argued over every word, because language is important, because what you’re asking, there’s a lot of ways to say integrity, there’s a lot of way to say enthusiasm, we use positive energy. So there’s a moment of truth where you have to say, I’m going to use integrity versus honesty, I’m going to use positive energy versus enthusiasm. So you have to make that choice that I’m going to use this language, I’m going to live these values. And that’s a moment of truth. And you and you just want to be you want to make sure that that people understand that you present it that way. That’s why it’s an invitation, don’t want to force you. But if you don’t want to, if you don’t want to live this way and behave with these values, then that’s okay. We’ll help you. We’ll help you to your next assignment.
Chad Franzen 18:36
As a sandwich kind of store. If I go into Potbelly. Do you think I could see that reflected in the culture within one particular restaurant? Oh, yes,
Aylwin Lewis 18:45
absolutely, absolutely. In fact, I would say when I when I went there, you know, ate the restaurants had a great culture. If they had not codified it, they had not defined it. And my job was to help put it on paper. And so we used a lot of the language that the restaurants use restaurants use positive energy. And, and so, you know, it’s everyone has these things they put on a wall, they talk about what you actually use, we will start meetings with the values. We had three, three training classes a year where we take three values a year, and have a two hour class and cascaded throughout the organization. The goal was, here’s what this value means to us. Here’s what we hope it could mean to you. And this is how you use it in this environment. So absolutely. To me, culture does not exist. Unless it’s real in restaurants. Your customers need to feel it, your suppliers need to feel it. And actually when we would bring on new suppliers, we’d have a supplier conference every summer. And we would go through our baggies and we would share these values and it’s like we only want to do business with people who can share these back. You don’t have to use our language. But we want you to understand Integris most important as positive energy is most important to us. Accountability is very important to us.
Chad Franzen 20:10
You’ve already shared some, some good stories, you know, your manager at Jack in the Box and some other ones. Are there any other stories or maybe one or two stories are lessons that you learned along the way that we’d love to hear?
Aylwin Lewis 20:21
Well, I think what’s important as you grow in this business is understanding. At some point, it’s not about you as a leader. Leadership is a privilege. And you want to always treat people the way you want to be treated. And the best way to engage people is engaged in hope they’re wholesales if I have a problem with food costs in the restaurant, I’m going to talk to the cooks. I’m going to talk to the cashiers as a leader we always try to we all we always kind of start with us. And do I have no I don’t have to know everything I have these people around me. Let me use their minds as well as their their energy, their bodies, their hands and their feet, that engaging the mind is just so important. That’s a lesson I learned over and over, I would do roundtables. I sit down with a group of 15 people, I’d ask three questions. You know, why do you work here? You know, what, what don’t you like about what we’re doing? And if you had my job for a week, but What two things would you change? And it was just incredible, just and I did 90% of sessions was just listening. And at the end, that we ended up answering questions. Okay, misconceptions. And it always had they had issues. If I wrote it down, it’s like, getting back was just so important. So I would just say, treating people well, you know, what a big thing for us was his turnover it and we had, we had half the turnover of the industry, because we spent a lot of time retention starts with selection. And so I like to say, be very hard on who you hire, and it makes the management easy. That’s why the values are so important. And so and then, you know, I here’s, here’s what I used to always tell in class and so I got my second restaurants jack in a box yet, if you were successful, you had to run one restaurant, they transfer you to another restaurant, and you’d have to demonstrate that you could do it again. So I’ve been running this one restaurant in North Houston, they give me a restaurant in southeast. So that and I was off that weekend. It was a transition weekend. So I go back to a restaurant on the Saturday night. And I talked to young woman at the window, give me a free lemon pie. So I go back the next night. And I talked into a talker into give me the whole odor free. So I figured out I got a thief and I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m gonna use this. So I show up that Monday worked the first shift I got 23 employees. At five o’clock she walks in the door. I think she recognized me so she’s thinking he this can be really good can be really bad. So I immediately just terminator on the spot. I say like your thief. You gave me a free lemon pie on Saturday night. Yes. And he gave me a free meal. I felt so self righteous. It’s like, okay, new chef in town. I’m letting people know I stand for integrity. And I’m gonna love I’m not gonna let people give away free food. Let him do like no out of 23 people 16 will relate it to her. Oh. I was running to 25 a restaurant brand new. And and by Tuesday I had seven people left. Oh man, in a very difficult staffing situation. That’s why it’s so many relatives. So lesson learned errors that new sheriff in town, you take the time to understand the situation. You meet with all employees, then you lay out, here’s the plan. Here’s my values, and you give people enough tunity you don’t go in and just blazing the first day.
Chad Franzen 23:52
Don’t need to flex your muscles right away. No, no, no. So you had been in leadership positions with yum brands for more than a decade. And then you left the restaurant industry for a while I’m guessing you you applied the same values and things that were important to you, no matter where you worked. But what did you learn from outside of the restaurant industry that may have helped you as you came back into Potbelly?
Aylwin Lewis 24:15
Well, listen, I values the stuff that worked at yum really worked. It was difficult in a car situation, mainly because the chairman had a different idea of things and eventually after three and a half years just hit me it’s like you may not can win here because we are values without a lie. And so but you know, what I will tell you is that we did culture classes there. I focus on the top 500 taught a day long class of the culture and had a moment of truth that was 13 of those that bet that the follow up oh five after the merger. Things work. You know the value stuff work, but you have to To be aligned with the total leadership if you’re going to have the dramatic impact that we need because even it you know, in Oh 506 Or seven, it was obvious that the onslaught of the internet was going to have was going to have a disassociated impact on brick and more, even back then that was clear is going to happen. What’s your timing. And so when I went back to Potbelly and I picked Potbelly, because it was small, it was a way to get my hands dirty. So I can reaffirm the things I learned at yum brands. And so the values that product and align management team, a structure that supports the strategy, and then energetic leadership and focus on the front line, focus on the customers focus on the product. All that stuff. Potbelly gave me a chance to reaffirm,
Chad Franzen 25:58
do you have advice based on your your experience of not having your values aligned with a company that you would give to maybe people who are looking for a new job or are job searching for the first time,
Aylwin Lewis 26:09
I think the first thing you have to do is what are your personal values and need to align your values with the company you’re working with. If you don’t have that alignment, then you know, it’s like having two sets of books, you got to be something when you’re at work, when you’re something that and when you’re not at work. And that’s not life is too short to don’t do that. So the first thing is understanding the values, then it is important understand the nature of the work and who you’re working with. Because in our business, people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. And and there’s a lot of ways to get results in a in a short term in a restaurant environment. You want to make sure you work someone is going to do it the right way to do it. Those people got to do it to coaching and be very transparent. And you know, in this business, the heat of the moment, you want leaders that are calm, I don’t believe the screaming and yelling, I don’t believe in demeaning people, I believe in quiet leadership that steady. And that steadiness comes at the height of a rush, that steady is come even when you’re two people short, the anchor of that restaurant needs to be the leader. And if the leader is unstable, then you don’t have a shot. And so those are all things important. But it starts with values, understanding the company understand the situation. And working for a leader is going to respect you as a person.
Chad Franzen 27:31
COVID has been a huge challenge for everyone in the restaurant industry. You’ve been retired, at least as a CEO, during the you know, the pandemic. But you have been a leader and other you know, in the 2008 economic crisis, you were your leader during 911? What? What kind of advice do you have for the restaurant industry? Now, given what they’re going through?
Aylwin Lewis 27:53
Well, listen, I go still involved on boards, you know, we used to do scenario planning. And that would be if you had a natural disaster that would take away 5% of your business heard a region for a period of time? How do you survive that you had resources where you could transfer? You know that? Nothing? Nothing you want to say if I lose 90% of my business, I lose 7% my business? What do I do? I just never thought that way, right that that, you know, even years a Disney very sophisticated company, we had a lot of plans on a lot of stuff, never about a pandemic. And so I think the smart management teams would want to first said, Okay, this is about survival. How do you get liquidity so you can survive, so you can fight another day. And if I have to decimate my, my team, how do I do it in such a way that leaves them as whole as possible? And be very transparent on what’s going to happen. So they’re not surprised, again, treating people the way you need to be treated? And then how do you turn on a dime those kitchens, I saw people do the whole carry out I think this this pandemic, for successful companies accelerated the role of technology accelerated the role of, you know, food, people taking your food to their homes, delivery apps, all that stuff got accelerated by five to 10 years. And you know, pay systems, even closing the books five years ago to notion that you could close, have monthly close and do it remotely, and then have the public accounting firms do their work remotely, was unheard of. So it did accelerate that stuff. So now on the other end of this, it’s like, how do I bring people back and then have them understand what happened and try to provide safeguards to say, if you come back to give me another chance, we’re going to try very hard. That doesn’t happen to you again. I do think that’s very important because right now you have people that thought They had great careers, you know, foods always got to be that restaurants, hotels always got to be that that disappeared. So how do you come back and convince people? Okay, give us another try, please. And here’s what we got. On the other hand, if that ever happens, again, here’s some things we learned. So it won’t be as severe as this one may have been think that’s all important. But innovation technology, we didn’t reduce the menu for too long I’m operator had some marketing jobs, but always thought our menus were too excessive. So now it’s like, let’s get down to menu items that really make money to customers really want the whole 8020 thing, the notion of running your business without the dining room. I mean, you determinated, a manager that close it down in your room for one minute. So all that stuff, it turns us a viable driving the business is staying alive and growing. All that stuff became important. So I think that’s the lessons you kind of learned is that strong management teams look at disaster and still say, what’s the opportunity? And how do we exploit the opportunity? Yes, business is resilient. This business is populated by very smart people. It will take a while. But it will come back because it is essential. It is very essential to the economy is very essential to the lives of people. And so it will come back it will be different. And that’s why it’s so important to codify the lessons that you kind of learned.
Chad Franzen 31:29
You know, your your career has seen so many milestones. You mentioned that when you were starting, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like you. I mentioned that you were a huge part in taking Potbelly public. What are a few milestones that you’re particularly proud of?
Aylwin Lewis 31:44
Well, listen, I you know, being CEO of Pizza hut in the late 90s, was a really big deal. I was chief marketing officers for a year at KFC in the middle 90s. Big, big deal. Being the CEO of the entire company at the spin off for Yum! Brands, and being the number to guide the company was important. And then, you know, listen, it was a suicide mission to leave the confines of my home. And I was, you know, I love the company. David was great. Dave Dino was great as a CFO. But I wanted to be a CEO. And I was never going to compete against a family. So I there’s no way I could stay in the restaurant business at that time. Because then I would have been competing against a family and I never got to do that got calls all the time. And it’s like, no, I can’t compete against a family, there’s no place on the globe, I can go and that compete against the family. So retail is a way to do that. And so first, what a $20 billion company and then the combined company is $53 billion. And what I will say is, the three years I was there is the most money the company has made 20 years prior, and definitely after that, so those three years. So the high mark, if you look at the profitability of the company, and you look at the things we accomplished, so I was very proud of that, you know, 2014 got the golden chain award, industry recognition of a career, distinguished alumni from the University of Houston, in 20 2015. So listen, I, I have had a tremendously blessed life. I was born into projects. We were poor, but we were proud. And so, you know, only in America could a kid forward in the projects in Houston, Texas, you know, had a career that I’ve had. And so I wake up every morning with a tremendous sense of gratitude, I feel very blessed. And then it’s a sense of how you get back. And so, you know, I’m Chairman of the Board of Visitors at University of Houston have set up a scholarship fund for disadvantaged kids and three of the colleges there. And it’s just a way to give back. That college education was just so important. It was such a foundation, the learning the the enlightenment, the foundation that once you finish that degree, now you’re on a pathway of learning for the rest of your life. And that’s what that is still to me.
Chad Franzen 34:16
How did you keep from you know, just getting from the projects, to any of the places, many of the places that you were professionally? How did you keep from letting that go to your head?
Aylwin Lewis 34:27
Humility is very important. And mom drove back to us. My wife keeps me very humble. She’s like, you’re not to see have nothing around here. So I’ve been married for 30 years, the same woman. Listen, I’ve seen how ego gets in the way. And that’s just not who I am. For me, it’s all about I really believe in the inverted pyramid. It’s like you get to a place of leadership. So you can do maximum good for the most people and you recognize, you know, every day when I left work, I would look myself in the mirror it’s okay, that are right to come back tomorrow, because you’d have a lot of people counting on you when you’re at the top of the organization. And it’s a price to pay. And it is a privilege to be a leader. So I was very humbled. When I traveled, I never traveled to entourage, I visit restaurants 80% of the business with blank, get in plane, leave the first flight in the morning, you get in a car, I drove myself, you know, I earned my shirts, I shine my shoes, all that stuff just keeps you home. Because at the end of the day, we’re all people, and it’s a people business. Can I look a person in the eye? Be interested in what’s happening to them? And can I have impact. So humility is very important. It’s one of the things we talked, we talked to leadership and accompanies was like, you want to be humble, you want to be approachable, you don’t want to be self indulgent. And I did have one technique I use. So the first Wednesday of every month, from eight to nine, was always pity party. And so I would give myself an opportunity to the say, oh, woe is me, for all the things had been done to me that but it was one hour a month, and there’s a way just to unload the stuff that was the negative stuff that was attaching itself to you. And so I built myself in bed every month for that one hours, like, okay, let’s just just have to always get a pity party, then you get on your way. Did you have Life’s too short, life’s Life’s too short to be negative, life’s too short to focus on the negative. Positive energy means a lot.
Chad Franzen 36:30
That was a that was a one once a month thing you said you also played the what ifs kind of a what if game on your way to work? Did you have any other daily rituals that help keep you happy? Or
Aylwin Lewis 36:39
well, the planning was very important. You know, I was on I was a district manager, he had some success. And I had, I was on my way from 606 to 620. The numbers of restaurants are remember that. And I was thinking for a year really stupid on the weeks that I got a lot done. I had my week planned. I was starting that Sunday, and I map out every day, I got a ton of stuff done. So my reward for that week was that, okay? I don’t have to do a plan this week. And at the end of that week, you feel so I feel so accomplished. It’s like you get it, you need to do this all the time. And so planning was a big part I tactical plan. For every job. I had started with a job map, tactical plan, put the plan on the calendar, and you live by the calendar. And then you know, once a quarter you follow up on Did you do the things she said she was going to do? But absolutely planning the work to have impact attached that to results, which is very important. So that that I will say that is that was the secret to my success. Every job I had it was that job map? How do I want to spend my time? And then what are the tactics against the the success criteria that we have? What am I person going to do to drive that success? And then putting those tactics on a calendar?
Chad Franzen 38:02
Final question for you. We are big fans of publicly acknowledging people who have been influential for us. You’ve already mentioned, obviously, your parents had a huge impact on you and some of their colleagues you’ve had, who is a mentor, maybe somebody in the industry that was particularly influential for you.
Aylwin Lewis 38:16
So I have four mentors, the first one with Bob Nugent, a Jack in the Box. Bob just had a different leadership style and open up away. When I was still formative like me, I want to be like this guy because his knowledge his ability to relate to people. Cow Craig at KFC us as a really demonstrated that good people to finish first, he was a very good guy, David Novak, obviously. And then lastly was Mr. Pearson, who was the first chairman of yum brands Andy Pearson, smartest man I ever met. But even at you know, when he became chairman, I think was Miss. He’s in his mid 70s. And we did round two we do 360s His first 360 came back horrible, because he was bombastic. Here’s some of the time period. You know, he used profanity. He’s screaming, yell, and that came back on us. 360. And he sent out a note to the whole company said, I hear you loud and clear, adhere to things from this just a Ford I’m going to do and became totally different. But no one’s smarter. Strategic. He taught General Manager class, I think eight years at Harvard Business School. He had been president of PepsiCo before that just a brilliant guy. And he he helped really helped me when I was in SEO row, look at the broad pitching, like don’t do things unless they are scalable, unless they are enduring, because then you’re just wasting resources. So those four people have dramatic impact on my career. And then my personal life just wouldn’t have been. My career wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership with my wife. Sure.
Chad Franzen 39:53
That’s great. Great to hear. Did you ever wish you’d become an English professor?
Aylwin Lewis 39:57
Now having a look back at this, this is A great industry is magical serving food to customers where you can do it at a, you know, and listen, I have a European sense of what it means to be a restaurant tour. I’m proud of the fact of the mass feeders that we do the high quality that it takes. It’s just Supreme High Quality supply chains. The attention to detail it takes to serve the same product across multiple units and doing a consistent way is an amazing thing. And I was. I’m very proud to be part of that.
Chad Franzen 40:30
Well, hey, Mr. Lewis. It’s been a privilege and an honor to have the chance to talk to you and I really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for joining me.
Aylwin Lewis 40:36
Thank you very much. Appreciate the opportunity and you much success in what you’re doing. And thank you for that.
Chad Franzen 40:42
Thank you. Thank you so much. So long, everybody.
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