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When the boss plays santa

How many cooks and cashiers in a franchisee's system have gotten Christmas presents from the big corporate boss? How about a big hug? Well, good luck in finding statistics on that one. But if those cooks and cashiers happen to work at any of the 72 Taco Bells or 43 Pizza Huts owned by Austin, TX-based Austaco, a major franchisee of Yum! Brands, the answer is 100%.

This is because Marian Dozier, the company's chairman, charters a motor coach every year during the holidays for the sole purpose of bringing gifts—and herself—to every hourly employee who draws a paycheck from her company. What's more, Dozier, closing in on 70, is well past the point where she has to bother motoring all over Texas in a bus during December. Yet retirement is the furthest thing from this franchisee's mind: "I'll keep working," she vows, "until they roll me out of here."

The annual goodwill trip—which has been a tradition since Dozier and her late husband opened their first restaurant in 1968—isn't just a token gesture. It represents part of a very hands-on approach to management taken by this mother, entrepreneur, and industry veteran. As CFO Dave Polis puts it, "She's the spirit of the organization."

This spirit, observers say, has fostered dedication among employees. Fifteen-year-plus tenures are not uncommon at Austaco. "Marian makes sure she takes care of her employees," says Tony Fina, a Taco Bell manager in Round Rock with 10 years at Austaco. "If someone's got a personal problem, she knows about it. If a manager produces a good P&L, she's there to say thanks and pat them on the back. That's rare for a company this large." (The company employs some 5,000 people and grosses $90 million annually.)

What's more, Dozier combines her insistence on a family feeling with hard-nosed attention to the books. It's a balancing act she's familiar with. When she and her husband began the company 35 years ago, he told her, "I need you to handle the money, and I need you to handle the home," Dozier recalls. Since taking the chairman's post six years ago, the company's acquired 39 more Pizza Huts. You'll find her at every Taco Bell and Pizza Hut marketing conference. Son and CEO Dirk seldom makes decisions without her input. "Marian has considerable impact on business," Polis says, "both internally and externally."

But what about being a female chairman in an industry where most senior execs are men? Dozier says that raising four sons and working in the business has made her "very comfortable" working with men. And she's got some advice for female aspirants looking to join the boy's club that some of the industry still remains. "Love to play the game," says Dozier, a regular at University of Texas football games. "Speak up for yourself, remember to laugh, be ready for change, and learn to play golf."

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