Lessons from Leadership

Mama Fu's Franchisee-Turned-Franchisor On New Role

A leader is formally defined as a person who guides or directs a group. In growing up, however, leadership is typically correlated with the first one to make it across the monkey bars in or later simply leading by example in school, or social circles.

In the business world, there are many more definitions of leadership we have all seen and heard, such as leaders surround themselves with quality individuals; have the ability to make rational decisions in emotional situations; possess an undying passion coupled with an acute ability to motivate; and have high levels of integrity and a well-defined moral compass. I am not truly sure which is correct, or even if leaders themselves know what it takes to lead, as they just do it.

That is how I feel about the firsthand experience I received when, in 2008, my partner and I acquired Mama Fu's Asian House. Formerly the largest franchisee of the failing Asian franchise system and now president and CEO of the growing new company, I have had to convince company investors, legacy franchisees, new franchise prospects, employees, suppliers, and in some ways customers, to follow me as we reengineered the brand and readied ourselves to franchise again--all during the worst recession of our time.

One thing that is very clear now from the leadership definitions above is that who you lead is as important as what you are trying to accomplish. The internal and extended teams assembled to rebuild Mama Fu's infrastructure, reduce start-up costs, increase top-line sales, and to improve marketing, branding and the franchise base, are at the highest levels of skill and reliability, and one of the main reasons we have been successful to date.

In addition to the people around you, a network of mentors is also imperative: be wary of any leader making decisions in a vacuum! This network can be made up of board members, investors, direct reports or staff, members in professional organizations, or even close friends, but all should have in common some knowledge or experience that can contribute to your development in becoming a better leader. I have used this approach thoroughly during my professional career and have found it invaluable, especially during critical times when a sounding board is most needed.

Taking on a leadership position can certainly be difficult at times, with tough decisions, constant examination, and ultimate accountability to what is typically a diverse group of shareholders. But it can also be personally and professionally rewarding as a leader to be partially responsible for creating opportunities for others. Whether it is a customer note about an exemplary experience, a job for a new staff member that provides stability to a family, a development agreement for a looking to expand their portfolio, or a company investor looking for a safe and promising return on investment, all are constant reminders that I am making the right decisions for the right reasons.

As I wrote this article and reflected upon what I have contributed to--and, more important, learned about leading--Mama Fu's, I have come to the conclusion that what it takes to be a leader is everything that I mentioned before and more--and in my opinion the more part is the most important element. The individual leading the effort has to care as much--if not more--about who they are leading and what is important to them than the overall goal itself.

This desire to see others succeed has been critical to our success since the brand acquisition, and paramount to our ability to thrive forward as we build out 29 new store rights and expand our brand regionally and nationally with additional franchise partners.

Randy Murphy is president and CEO of Mama Fu's Asian House, based in Austin, Texas. In March 2008, as the brand's largest franchisee, he formed Murphy Adams Restaurant Group and acquired Mama Fu's from Raving Brands. Since then, he has re-engineered the brand, which currently has 13 units (9 company owned and 4 franchised) and 29 new store rights in various stages of development. Contact him at 512-949-3221 or rmurphy@mamafus.com.

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