Leader as reader

After more than two decade in senior management positions, Papa Murphy’s CEO Ken Calwell has forged some definite strategies for leading a restaurant chain. Here in his own words are Calwell’s approaches to issues every C-suite resident addresses at one time or another:

Management style: I like a free culture, where people are empowered. I say, ‘Let’s do this,’ and it’s up to them to figure out how to do it. I’m not very controlling as to what route we take to get there. But make no mistake: We’re going to get from Pont A to Point B.

Building a team: Every team that I built, I looked for people who share my core values, but I look for people with strengths complementary to mine. I learned early on to be very open with my team about my weaknesses.

Limited-time offers: It’s not just getting a lot of products into the pipeline. It’s the quality of the products. Eighty percent of our pipeline has the potential to be permanent products, not LTOs. It was close to 100 percent when I got here. We’ve done a lot of investment in our product development.

Models worth studying: When I took this job, I went and studied Disney, I studied Nordstrom, Apple, Panera, Chipotle—what I call first choice brands, because they’re widely recognized as he first choice that comes to consumers’ minds when they think of a market.

Loyalty programs: We don’t have a loyalty program. I say the best one you can have is to be the customer’s first choice brand.

Dealing with ownership: I built my team to have strengths in areas where I’m weak. That’s exactly what I see with our private equity owners, Lee Equity Partners. They’re very good at the financial piece. They have developed good analytics. My team and I bring a fundamental understanding of franchising and restaurants.

Franchisee relations: There’s a partnership there. I have limited control over its success; I need the franchisees to do their part. A franchisor is going to build their profits—if they do what they’re supposed to do.

A franchisor’s role: You have to hold yourself accountable. We set goals, and we measure things better than we have before. The way you really build trust and credibility is by being transparent. You go test things, and sharing the results.

Mentors: When I was at Pizza Hut, I worked directly with Steve Reinemund [later the CEO of Pepsico]. I was hired at Pizza Hut by David Novak [later the CEO of Pizza Hut parent Yum! Brands.] At Wendy’s, I got a chance to work with Dave Thomas and [CEO] Gordon Teeter, and [current CEO] Emil Brolick.


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