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7:38 AM   April 18, 2015
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If it Ain’t Broke…

Joe Croce is a friend from the early ‘80s. We worked together at a large CPA firm in Dallas. Joe was truly a fish out of water at that firm; he was passionate about opening a pizza restaurant—it was all this Italian boy from Brooklyn talked about. And boy, did he ever.

Heard of CiCi’s Pizza? Yah, that’s what I thought. They have hundreds of locations throughout the U.S. Although Joe sold the company several years ago, he was willing to share his most compelling lesson with me one day over lunch. As retailers and manufacturers, I know you will be able to relate to this story of "Culture Clash…”

Joe is well aware of what got him to the big dance. He started poor, smart and hungry, and the first people he hired were the same. He was an entrepreneur who wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty and expected the same from his managers.

Joe and his crew were racehorses who led by doing. They followed the culture and model Joe had laid down at the beginning, and with determination it went from its humble beginnings to a company knocking on the door of half a billion in sales.

In Joe’s effort to take his business to the next level, he studied other businesses—the ones who’d cleared the $1 billion and better hurdle. He’d read an article in the Wall Street Journal and say, "Hey, I need those kind of people.”

Sometimes that attitude is right. Sometimes a company can outgrow its people. Until now Joe had "doers,” leaders and operations people who knew what it took to run restaurants.

But Joe thought what he needed were thinkers, the big picture leaders who would somehow bring more efficiency, a grander way to do things. Maybe then he could achieve his goal of doubling his annual sales. So he went out and bought himself a thinker, someone with an impressive resume who Joe thought would have the instant knowledge and experience needed to leverage CiCi’s Pizza to the next level.

That’s when the trouble began.

The new COO was a sharp contrast to the rough-and-tumble racehorses who ran the CiCi’s Pizza franchises. Joe figured that for a good thing. But it wasn’t long before things started feeling wrong. The stores began to take on a less frenetic, more structured atmosphere. The reliance on store managers as a key ingredient in the concept’s success lessened in favor of a more top-down approach that soon had older managers leaving and new, more malleable managers hired in.

"The thinker turned the stores into a mundane kind of no-energy place,” Joe said.

The morale dropped. The turnover climbed. And of course it compounds itself because the thinker goes out and hires thinkers, because we hire in our own image. So now I’ve got a store full of thinkers. I need action, not thinkers.”

Within six months, all those intangible warning signs and bad feelings started to show on the bottom line. Turns out Joe had replaced his racehorses with pack mules.

Joe had to go back to step one. He had to recognize what had built his pizza empire in the first place, and that while new blood can be energizing, an entrepreneur shouldn’t tinker unnecessarily with a successful culture.

 "Looking back, for a fraction of what my mistake cost me, I could have taken some of those racehorses of mine and sent them to the right classes and seminars so that they could bring that thinker mentality into the equation, without the cost of having a thinker who couldn’t do,” Joe said.

Or, as they say in Texas, "dance with the one that brung ya.”

Lesson Learned: Don’t just hire the résumé, hire to your unique culture.

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If it Ain’t Broke…

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