Resetting Priorities: Anand Gala Resizes, Refocuses, and Restrategizes

Resetting Priorities: Anand Gala Resizes, Refocuses, and Restrategizes

Simplification and a renewed focus on business and life have taken center stage for Anand Gala since we profiled him in 2010. "It's really a simple story of taking a step back and reassessing where I am," he says.

At the beginning of 2010, Gala and his company were coming out of the recession and picking up steam. He had 19 Applebee's, 5 Famous Dave's, and 3 Del Taco locations. But he says with units spread across several western states he was looking to bring his operation back home when an unexpected offer came his way.

"We had been going through the massive reimaging program rolled out by Applebee's with all of our locations," he says. "Then about two years ago we were approached by the largest Applebee's franchisee in the system who wanted to buy our locations." It was a big deal for Gala because almost half of his sales were generated in his Applebee's But it seemed like the right time and place, and he closed the deal in the summer of 2014. He's still sitting on the proceeds from the sale and evaluating his next move.

He also sold his Del Taco locations to an entrepreneur in Phoenix where the stores were located. All of this gave Gala a renewed sense of focus and a chance to spend more time strategizing for his business, whose units are now all located in California.

"When you have a large business you are deeply involved in running that business daily," he says. "By selling off and now focusing exclusively on only Famous Dave's, I have more time to think and plan strategically."

In the past five years he has doubled his Famous Dave's locations from 5 to 10 in Northern and Southern California. He expects to add two more Famous Dave's in 2015, perhaps more. "I'm always looking at opportunities to create value in my organization," he says. "I'm constantly looking at potential acquisitions within my brand and, possibly, elsewhere." Gala says he loves the Famous Dave's brand because it is "a clearly differentiated concept and the brand is a master at barbecue."

Business played a major role, but his downsizing strategy wasn't just a dollars-and-cents decision for the married father of two. "This has all given me more time to spend with my family, and that's the most important part of life."

Moving forward he says, "I have the luxury of being more strategic with my business right now since I have downsized, but that doesn't mean I won't grow again."

Name: Anand Gala
Title: President & CEO
Company: Gala Corp.
No. of units: 10 Famous Dave's of America
Age: 41
Family: Married, 2 children
Years in Franchising: 31
Years in Current Position: 16


First job:
Jack in the Box, working as a production employee cleaning floors, restrooms, etc.

Formative influences/events:
Biggest influences have been my family. I have received a great deal of support and tough love from my parents and brother. I have been inspired and motivated to succeed by them and many other family members who have gone into the franchised business and achieved the American Dream.

Key accomplishments:
Learning work ethic and the value of money at an early age. It continues to serve me well and keep me grounded. Failing early and not getting mentally and emotionally paralyzed because of it. We learn the most from our failures.

Biggest mistake:
No mistakes, just decisions, of which some have consequences. Each has been a great and has made me a better person and leader.

Smartest mistake:
Going to work for my family. No better and I have the opportunity to spend time with my family.

Decision I wish I could do over:
None. Each decision has led me to where I am, and I feel blessed and lucky to have such a life.

Work week: Five days in the office, stores, or traveling. Work from home a half-day on weekends. Typical 60-hour work week.

How do you spend a typical day?
No day is typical. Varies every day.

Favorite fun activity:
Sports, reading.

Exercise: Been on my to-do list for 10 years. Hope to start soon.

Favorite tech toy:
Smartphone. It has so many things built in so I do not have to carry too many things with me any more (camera, phone, player, etc.).

What are you reading?
Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service by the Disney Institute.

Do you have a favorite quote?
"Be the change that you wish to see in the world" by Mahatma Gandhi.

Best advice you ever got:
Life is too short to work with a@#holes.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The prospect of having an impact on people's lives and making something better than it was the day before.

What's your passion in business?
To improve as many lives through the creation of opportunity and of great service. There is a lack of this in the world today.

How do you balance life and work?
There is no such thing as balance for an entrepreneur. There is only engagement. I try to be present and engaged in whatever I am doing and whoever I am with, whether that is work or family.

Last vacation:
London--an interesting view into what urban U.S. will eventually turn into.

Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
Milton Hershey. He failed four times (bankruptcy) before starting The Hershey Company. He had focus and perseverance



Business philosophy:
Make things better, every day.

Management method or style:
Build strong teams of people smarter than I am in their specific area. Develop an aligned strategy. Let them do their jobs. They tend to hold each other accountable.

Greatest challenge:
Time management.

How do others describe you?
Patient, calm, focused, driven.

One thing I'm looking to do better:
Time management.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
Set the goals, encourage them to find the way, do the research, etc. I encourage them to continue their education, whether it is formal, conferences, webinars, certification, etc.

How close are you to operations?
I was not as involved as I wanted to be until I sold the Applebee's business last year. I now have time to get much more involved, but I am careful not to undermine the efforts and accountability of our operations teams.

What are the two most important things you reply on from your franchisor?
Leadership/brand strategy and innovation (how to innovate the business to make the franchisees as profitable as possible).

What I need from vendors:
Honesty, integrity, and a focus on my profitability.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy?
No, but we continue to test and evaluate different marketing strategies for effectiveness and adjust accordingly to get the best results.

How is social media affecting your business?
It has an effect on every business. You need to monitor it so that you have a sense of consumer perception (perception is their reality). You cannot authentically "manage" social media. You just have to do the best you can with QSCF&V and social media will take care of itself.

How do you hire and fire?
No change. I still hire slow (lots of diligence and interviews/testing to make sure the candidate fits the culture and position). I still fire fast to remove any negative impact to our company and our culture.

How do you train and retain?
We continue to focus on a disciplined culture of one-on-one as well as documented practices, processes, procedures, and systems that can be tested against. We also have a very heavy dose of training in our company culture. If we do all that correctly, retention is taken care of.

How do you deal with problem employees?
Most take care of themselves and leave as they realize that they do not fit our culture and do not want to be held accountable to our higher standards.

Fastest way into my doghouse:
Poor communication and not living up to your commitments.

Bottom Line

Annual revenues:

2015 goals:
Continued focus on improvement and efficiency.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
If we are achieving or beating our traffic targets while achieving or beating our guest satisfaction goals. If we take care of the guests, they come back more often. Sales and profits are a by-product of doing the basics correctly.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
Our vision is not measured in store count, sales, or employee count, but rather by a very well-run business and guests who are evangelists of our business. We do aspire to win the Baldrige Award in 10 years or sooner.

How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers?
As the economy improves, we see the opportunity for increased frequency because of an increased customer confidence. We also see continued challenges that cannot be timed with the economy or market, and so there are many cost pressures that make business challenging.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your markets?
Yes, things are getting better, slowly but surely.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
They recently have been motivating to accelerate the way we innovate in our business. There are always various pressures or changes that require any business to be in constant change and engaged in innovation.

How do your forecast your business?
We are very focused on how we continue to improve against ourselves. We consider the competitive set, but they are not our benchmark, only a point of reference.

What are the best sources for capital expansion?
We have expanded with our own capital and traditional bank financing. It is a slower method of growth. There are some very innovative platforms for financing coming soon, such as crowdsourcing debt and equity financing.

Have you used private equity, local banks, national banks, other? Why/why not?
We have historically had experiences with local and national banks as well as franchise finance companies. I prefer the local banks and those options with a special focus on franchise finance as they understand the business better, as well as the needs of the shareholders. I do not use private equity.

What are you doing to take care of employees?
We offer many benefits, incentives, and options for top performers as well as career options for so many who are interested, and we provide a great deal of training and education.

How are you handling rising employee costs?
This is why we need to continue to educate ourselves and innovate. The economy, labor costs, and regulations are not the same as they were 10 years ago. Therefore, neither should the way that we run our businesses. Technology has and will continue to play a role in innovation, but we are also required to reimagine what we do to run a restaurant and how we do it. It is uncomfortable at times as change is hard for all of us.

How do you reward/recognize top performing employees?
Through strong financial incentives. Most recently, we have a program that provides a leased BMW for our top-performing general managers.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I do not think of the business in terms of exit strategy, as this tells our company and its employees that I am not committed to them. Instead, I focus on succession planning. This focuses on developing strong leaders in the company to continue to outperform and provides opportunity and incentive to them for their commitment and performance. Great businesses are built over time with a strong, long-term focus. Short-term strategies never create value or sustainable businesses that last.

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