Experiencing Turbulence: Enduring Values Keep Tom Barnett Aloft During A Bumpy Economic Ride

Tom Barnett has taken it on the chin. The last three years of economic woe have taken a toll but his values and commitments remain as strong as ever.

Since we last spoke with the Arizona-based multi-brand franchisee in 2008, the skier, pilot, and family man has purchased a small private jet that he flies. His son is now 18, his daughter is 20, and he and his wife, Georgia, have been married for 25 years. His favorite pastimes include skiing with them in Colorado.

Unfortunately, what hasn't changed, says Barnett, is the four-year decline experienced by his Phoenix and Tucson area Burger Kings, The Good Egg restaurants (a full-serve concept he owns with friends), and Blue Burrito Grilles he contracts out in airports.

"I've never seen anything like it--none of us has," says Barnett, a former fighter pilot in Vietnam turned UCLA MBA-wielding franchisee and franchisor. "Many of my fellow Burger King franchisees are doing worse than we are. I keep asking myself how things can be worse."

Born into a military family and having spent six years in the U.S. Air Force, Barnett knows about hunkering down, and that's what he's been doing. Growth has been put on hold and bonuses and raises suspended for the past three years. The up side, in addition to the fact that he's been able to spend more time with his family, is that "We've been able to keep everybody so far."

One thing the economy hasn't affected is his close working relationships. "I've been so blessed with the two best partners you could ever have. On the Burger King side, Shelley Krispin has been my partner for 30 years, and she does the work of two or three people. And in the Good Egg franchise, there's Charlie Syburg, who I've worked with for 25 years. Our partnerships work because we truly trust and love each other and we share Christian values."

Another positive, says Barnett, is the new ownership and management team at Burger King corporate. "They are doing a wonderful job of turning around and revitalizing what had been a concept in a four-year death spiral. They understand the business and what it means to be franchisee-driven. Operations are improving and products are greatly improving."

With the same tenacious approach he takes to business and life, Barnett says he has worked hard to become a better Christian and to demonstrate that in every aspect of his life. "I'm very committed. I have an ethical and moral responsibility to treat everyone in a certain way. I've been inordinately blessed by God. Any success I've had I see as a blessing and the result of everybody else's efforts." It's those values, along with a can-do attitude, that keep an energetic Barnett going. "I've been taught to never, ever give up. If you give up, you've lost," he says.

Barnett, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is an admitted workaholic, and in the current economy, he doesn't see slowing down much any time soon--but he also doesn't intend to stop living life. "I'm not in the office every day, but there's never a time I'm not working," he says. "I'll be skiing in Colorado in February, but I'll still work every third day for several hours a day. I'm relentless."

For Barnett, the key to making it all work remains working with outstanding partners to run the best franchise operation possible and maintain a system that allows everyone in the company to develop and do their best. "I like to say I'm in the people development business," he says.

Barnett clearly is not looking at 2012 through rose-colored glasses, and remains frustrated with government actions and inaction regarding the economy. His best pep talk for would-be franchisees? "It had better be something you really like to do and are willing to work at seven days a week. You need to set an example for your people, keep expenses down, and grow slowly. Everybody doesn't have to own a huge company. Some people enjoy being behind every day, and that's fine."


Name: Tom Barnett
Title: President
Company: Barnett Management Co.
No. of units 2012: 21 Burger Kings; 19 The Good Egg restaurants (a concept we own with friends); 6 Blue Burrito Grilles (which we franchise out to airports)
No. of units 2008: 22 Burger Kings; 20 The Good Egg restaurants; 2 Blue Burrito Grilles (plus 5 operated under license by HMSHost at airports)

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