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Joe Drury's personal history reads like a rags-to-riches movie script. Born in Canton, Ohio, he was on his own at 14 and "chose to survive," he says. "Everything I did, I attacked it like it was my last meal."

He started out working in a Wendy's. He excelled and worked his way into the corporate office, where his mentor and "best friend," Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, taught him everything he knew about running a franchise and being a successful franchisee. He rose to vice president of operations at Wendy's, but left the company in the early 1990s to form the Carolina Restaurant Group, which bought 26 distressed Wendy's restaurants. By 2000, that number was up to 100 and sales had risen significantly.

In 1998, Drury and a group of investors bought the struggling Bojangles' Restaurants. In 2001 he bought a controlling interest, and as CEO spearheaded the stabilization and growth of the popular chicken and biscuits restaurant. He sold a rejuvenated Bojangles' in 2007, retaining an ownership interest, a seat on the board, and a role as consultant.

Drury, who lives in Charlotte, partnered with Glenn Gulledge (also a former Bojangles' CEO) and Mark Ourant to form Piedmont Pizzeria, and in September 2007 signed the biggest deal in the history of Ohio-based Donatos Pizza: 64 locations over 5 years. In August 2008, they expanded the deal to 200 locations in the Carolinas over the next 10 years.

"I love a challenge and I love building and growing a business," says Drury, chair of Piedmont Pizzeria, which expects to have 20 Donatos Pizzas in the Carolinas by the end of 2009--in addition to 7 Just Fresh Kitchen Bistros and 18 Cordoba Mexican Grills.

The key to being a successful multi-unit, multi-brand franchisee? Drury believes it's all about the product and the customer service. "If you have a food business that's unique and tastes great and that can be duplicated over and over, it's a good opportunity for a franchise. But it has to be better than average--something that people know you for," he says.

Although it's tough to balance his multiple franchises, Drury says his priorities now focus on his wife and five children, three of whom work in his stores. "I tend to want to give my kids a lot, because I don't want them to have to go through what I did. On the other hand, my experiences made me who I am, and I don't want to spoil them. I think about that a lot."

Name: Joe Drury
Title: Chairman
Company: Piedmont Pizzeria LLC
No. of units, by brand: Donatos Pizza, 14, with 3 more under construction); Just Fresh Kitchen Bistros, 7; Cordoba Mexican Grill, 18


Age: 56
Family: wife, Michelle, and five children (ages 4 to 28)
Years in current position: 1
Years in franchising: 30

Key accomplishments: I've taken lots of companies from bankruptcy and turned them around. For 30 years, Bojangles' never hit its stride and was improperly managed. When I bought it, we stabilized it and it grew into a corporation that was respected and that took good care of its franchisees. When I sold it in September 2007, I didn't sell it to the highest bidder. I was excited to be able to sell it to a group that didn't over-leverage it, continues to grow it, and takes care of its franchisees.

Biggest mistake: Like a lot of people who work in multiple concepts, I've made mistakes in how I allocated my time. But I've learned over the years how to do it.

Smartest mistake: I guess it was a real estate deal that I got involved in because of the operational side, not the real estate. I thought I shouldn't have bought the site, but it turned out well.

How do you spend a day, typically? I get most of my meetings done in the morning, and in the afternoon I spend as much time as I can in the restaurants, observing and talking with employees.

Work week: Whatever's necessary, including weekends.

Favorite fun activities: Spending time with the family, and playing with and racing cars. (How many cars does he have? "A lot.")

Exercise/workout: I don't have an exercise routine, but I also work a farm, so I'm on my feet a lot and doing lots of walking. It helps with stress.

Favorite stuff/tech toys: My cars.

What are you reading? Ted Turner's new book, Call Me Ted.

Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? The most important thing--and I follow it in all I do--is to feel good about getting involved. If I can't feel good about what I serve, I don't care about the return. I tell people: Ask yourself what you're passionate about. If you find that and are willing to look at everyone working with you and try to make them successful, chances are good you'll succeed.

Best advice you ever got: Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, who was always the first one to want to give back to the community where he had a business, told me, "If you're doing business in a community and are just taking without giving back, when the rough storm comes you're going to be uprooted and washed away."

Formative influences/events: Dave Thomas, and Jim Near, who was CEO and president of Wendy's for years, were the two biggest influences in my life. I was on my own pretty early as a kid, and their business influences became personal. I loved them.

How do you balance life and work? That's the biggest challenge anyone has. It's something you have to be able to do. As I get older, I balance things better because my priorities have changed. I look at things differently.


Business philosophy: It's great to be able to find people who share your passion, who can get in there and go about their day with as much enthusiasm as you have. But they have to share the downside too. It's too easy today for management to make decisions by committee. When an employee comes to me with a problem, I expect him to offer solutions. The accountability lies with them. That's how they learn.

Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? It's always been about customer service and food for me. You don't have a franchise or real estate if you can't make consumers happy; those two are the by-products.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Just an overall enthusiasm and the philosophy that there's nothing I can do about what happened yesterday. I get up looking at what I can do right today.

What's your passion in business? I like to see other people do well. A lot of people that have worked with me are now VPs and franchisees that own their own companies. If you pay attention to life, you learn different things from different people, and then do it your own way.

Management method or style: I want people to do a great job because they want to. And I hold people accountable. I make sure that responsibility is held at every level of the company. People know where I stand and what I expect. If they all know where the line in the sand is, they won't push beyond it. That's what gives us the ability to have fun then.

Greatest challenge: There's that balancing act, and it's also a challenge to keep your health intact.

How close are you to operations? I know all the employees in as many locations as I can by their first names. They know I'm going to be there talking to them. It's not unusual for an employee to come from behind the counter when I come in and hug me.

Personality: I'm a little reserved, but I like to get into business conversations.

How do others describe you? They say I'm not good at details. That's why I surround myself with people who are.

How do you hire and fire? I never look for someone who just wants a job. I look for someone who wants to be part of things. As to firing, the toughest thing is to let someone go who you inherited or made a mistake on, and since they're not capable of doing the job, you have to part ways. When it comes to firing someone who gives me half effort, I have no problem with that.

How do you train and retain? We have HR people and trainers--all the tools at our disposal. But retention is all about how we treat our employees. They need to know that if they've worked hard that day, somebody gives a damn. They need to truly feel they are important to the operation. If they know that, that's retention.


Annual revenue: $40 million

2009 goals: My main goal is to be profitable and financially in a position to always protect our employees. We will also have 20 Donatos by the end of 2009.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? By the performance of our existing businesses and most importantly, how well we're operating. I'm not just into big numbers. If I can grow successfully, I will. But the benchmark is: how well do we open?

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? In 5 years, we'll be a company over $250 million (without Bojangles', where I'm still an investor and a board member).

How is this economic cycle affecting your business, your employees, and your customers? Everybody is being more penny-wise. If we do things right in our restaurants, that can work to our advantage. I still believe that if I'm serving good food at great value people will come to me first.

What are you doing differently in this economy? We're keeping an even closer look at the G&A. We can't look at as much spending. We're careful about every site and scrutinizing every deal carefully.

Where do you find capital for expansion? Private equity, banks, developers.

Published: July 6th, 2009

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