When Aslam Khan was a youngster growing up in a poor mountain village in Pakistan, his world didn't include knowledge of luxury cars, homes, designer apparel, or the other trappings of money. His dreams at that point were a bit nebulous, but the bright, outgoing Khan knew there was something better in store for him and he began to educate himself and prepare to find it.
Khan immigrated to the United States in 1987 with $20 in his pocket and started as a dishwasher earning $3 an hour in a California Church's Chicken before working his way up through the business. By 1999, he'd bought 97 Church's restaurants and become CEO of his own company, Falcon Holdings. Today he is the largest franchisee in the Church's system and also operates franchises for Long John Silver's, A&W, Hardee's, and Piccadilly Cafeteria--300 in all. "I don't want to break them down because I don't want the franchises to think one is more important than the other," he says.
Is Khan living the American Dream? By anyone's standards, the answer is a resounding yes. He lives in a palatial estate in Southlake, Texas, and is one of the most successful franchisees in the world. In 2014 he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the IFA. And this year he was honored with the American Dream MVP award.
"I live in the most wonderful country in the world," he says with emotion. "There is no other place like the United States, where you can be anything you want to be." In a recent interview, a university president introduced Khan before a speech, asking him if he thought he's "made it."
"I told him probably, but it didn't register in my mind. I still see poverty in front of me. Because of my DNA, I control what I want to be, what I eat, what I wear, what I do. I've been fighting against poverty all my life. I'm a great fighter."
Khan's goal is to have Falcon Holdings become a billion-dollar company by 2020, and to continue to focus his empire on people and their success. "I'm taking senior managers and putting them into business," he says. "When they're ready to be on their own, I give them 25 percent of the business free and clear. We teach them about business so they can live and excel."
Name: Aslam Khan
Title: Chairman & CEO, Falcon Holdings LLC
No. of units: 300: Church's Chicken, Long John Silver's, A&W, Hardee's, Piccadilly Cafeteria
Family: Wife Silda and son Abraham, 17
Years in franchising: 30
Years in current position: 15
I grew up in extreme poverty and I knew that in order to be a decent human being I had to let poverty go, because it can make people do things they wouldn't otherwise do. Thank God I grew up to be 14 and left home. With extreme tenacity, I worked until I could come to the United States, the best country in the world, where you can be anything you want to be.
Successfully turned around over a dozen failing companies to provide profitability and created and nurtured over 20 individual entrepreneurs in their own businesses.
I work in the office daily from 9 to 6 and then do a lot of networking in the evenings and on weekends. I visit stores on the weekends to check how things are going.
What are you reading?
I'm always looking to improve myself and my leadership skills, so I read about the direction technology will take in the next 10 years, and also John Maxwell's leadership series.
Best advice you ever got:
Be true to yourself and believe it can be done.
What's your passion in business?
My passion is driven by my spirit to want to do better and accomplish and help others to succeed. I am in the people business and I truly care for the well-being of other individuals.
Put people first. If you take care of what is important, then the business will succeed.
Management method or style:
My management style is consent-driven and detail-oriented but also visionary. I encourage the entire team to provide ideas and debate concepts.
Knowing when to say "no" to a situation and not go beyond the point of no return in a business decision or a relationship.
How do others describe you?
As a successful, determined, and passionate individual who is driven to do more and contribute more.
How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
We hire for an attitude. If you have the right attitude, we can teach you the skills.
Increase the partners in the business by five and add 100 more stores.
Growth meter: How do you measure growth?
I don't think success can be measured by numbers. It's about growing people and the number of restaurants we can grow to help bring on more people.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
The vision that is the directive going forward is to be a billion-dollar company in 2020.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
I'm taking senior managers and putting them into business. When they're ready to be on their own, I give them 25 percent of the business free and clear. We teach them about business so they can live and excel. We engage and challenge people and reward them with bonuses and incentives.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I have developed a program in which I have taken my junior managers forward and made them independent business owners and entrepreneurs. However, no one, not even from my family, will run my company if they are not qualified.
Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
I believe it was because of the circumstances of where I came from and what I had to go through to achieve the success I have. I started with nothing and came from a very poor village across the world and have arrived at this level of the business, which is in the top 5 percent of the world.
How have you raised the bar in your own company?
I am always asking questions that create awareness and drive the results of the company to do more and the people to achieve more.
What innovations you have created and used to build your company?
We have created an automated dashboard and key performance indicators that have the ability to provide information when you need it and how you need it. I have also created a ranking system that uses competition and awareness to further our success.
What core values do you think helped you win this award?
The core values that I have are determination, perseverance and spirit to succeed against all odds, and the belief that it can be done.
How important is community involvement to you and your company?
Each of our units has their sharing programs with their local schools, churches, and other nonprofit groups. In addition, we support the Make-A-Wish Foundation and multiple sclerosis programs.
What leadership qualities are important to you and your team?
Lead by example so that the team understands and believes in you. Be honest and forthright so that the trust can be built and focused on. Deliver on what you promise you will do so that the team can count on you.
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