Peter Holt received an early Christmas present late last year when Tasti D-Lite CEO Jim Amos announced he was stepping down and that Holt had been selected to take the reins of the 25-year-old brand. But for Holt, the moment also was bittersweet.
"Jim Amos has been there with me since I first got into franchising back in the 1980s," says Holt. "He's a dear friend and mentor and I have enjoyed working alongside him all these years."
Holt's franchising career has taken him from his first job with the IFA to Brice Foods (I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! and Java Coast) to Mail Boxes Etc. to a stint with a private equity firm before coming to Tasti D-Lite in 2007. Until last year, he had served as COO at the company, where he led the 2011 acquisition of Planet Smoothie and the integration of the two brands.
Holt says his love of franchising was a complete accident. "When I got out of college I was sure I wanted to work in policy analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations based in Washington, D.C.," he says. Instead, he found himself a position at the IFA, and a love affair with franchising blossomed.
"Franchising is such a great place to work," he says. "I call it a community, not an industry." He had no franchising experience when he took the job in the IFA's membership department. The position allowed him to indulge his interest in international work, while exposing him to a business model he could immediately identify with, and would soon thoroughly embrace. "When you talk about a career-defining moment, that was it for me," he says.
Holt's professional background has allowed him to see franchising from many different angles, and has provided insights into franchises, franchisees, products, vendors, and customers.
As president and CEO of Tasti D-Lite, Holt is continuing to oversee day-to-day operations as he's done for the past 5 years, but now he is also charged with strategic planning initiatives. He's up for the task and says he believes the brand is at a great crossroads.
"The combination of Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie provides a fantastic building block for not only complementary day-part and product business, but also allows us to develop in different regions of the country where each of the brands is anchored," he says.
"We're the premier 'good for you frozen treat' company," he says. "And as more and more consumers search for healthier alternatives, we plan to be there in more and more locations and markets."
Name: Peter D. Holt
Title: President and CEO
Company: Tasti D-Lite
Units/Brands: Tasti D-Lite: 57 units; Planet Smoothie: 97 units
Family: Married, no children
Years in franchising: 27
Years in current position: Less than one
What is your role as CEO?
To provide the vision for our company, to lay down the foundation of our culture, to motivate our staff to reach their greatest potential in performance, and to allocate resources to achieve our preferred outcomes.
Describe your leadership style.
I approach every relationship believing that most of us are trying to do the best we can. I seek and expect the very best in people. I believe we rise to the expectations put upon us.
What has inspired your leadership style?
I am fortunate to have had a number of mentors who profoundly influenced my leadership style. I start with my fathe, who was a successful businessman willing to take great risks. He understood that half the battle in life is to show up and fight for what you think is right. Personal integrity was his motivating value. He taught me to seek out like-minded people with shared values so that together we can build something of significance.
What is your biggest leadership challenge?
To translate the vision. What may be so clear to me becomes increasingly diffused as it is interpreted through the layers of management. It is easier to influence on a one-to-one basis. As the organization grows it becomes more about what you accomplish through others rather than any one thing that you are doing yourself.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
It starts with clear communication. The foundation of our corporate culture is a clearly articulated and rigorously applied statement of our company's mission, vision, and values. This statement is reviewed annually at company-wide meetings. Ultimately, I think the most powerful tool we have to influence behavior is leading through our own example.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ?
The best preparation for leadership includes both. While I don't have an MBA (I do have an MA in Latin American history), the university setting requires you to hone your critical thinking skills, work in groups, and learn how to articulate your ideas both verbally and in writing. These skills create the framework for evaluation that you can use every day. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no substitute for OTJ. Our greatest learning comes from doing and by making mistakes, taking responsibility for our actions and moving forward. Until you are in a position where you must live through the consequences of your decisions it is just theoretical.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
Good decisions are based upon reliable and accurate information. I have always tried to surround myself with people who can give me good counsel and, importantly, listen carefully to what they have to say. What makes a decision "tough" is when there is conflicting information and/or uncertainty about the consequences. Nobody can predict the future perfectly. To make those tough decisions, after I have gathered the relevant information, I then rely on my own base of experience and trust my intuition.
Do you want to be liked or respected?
I would hope that being liked and being respected are not mutually exclusive. However, in leadership roles there are times when you must make decisions that are not universally popular and won't make everyone happy. If a desire to be liked becomes the primary driver of your decision-making, then you set yourself up for disappointment and, ultimately, failure. Far better to be respected for the integrity of your decisions than worrying about how many people like you.
Advice to CEO wannabes:
Virtually every moment of our lives is an opportunity to influence others. You don't wait until you have a certain title before you can be a leader. Focus on doing the right thing. Find your own style and voice. It is your authenticity that gives people a reason to follow.
Describe your management style:
I prefer an inclusive and engaged management style based upon an open-door approach and a foundation of clear communication. I want my staff to feel comfortable to come to me with any issue that is important to them. My responsibility is to make sure that they have everything they need to perform at their highest level, and expect them to do so.
What does your management team look like?
It is a group of extremely talented, high-performers who work collaboratively. They support each other. They share challenges and stay focused on creating solutions.
How does your management team help you lead?
First of all, we hold each other to the same high standards of integrity and competence. I work hard to make sure that the team understands and shares the vision, and empower them to execute. They help by ensuring that we all have the information required to make correct decisions. Nobody has all the answers, but we have a better chance of making the right decisions by tapping into the collective wisdom of the team. I seek to surround myself with leaders who profoundly understand their own disciplines and have the capacity to hear alternative approaches.
Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books?
I have a passion for reading with interests quite eclectic. I probably have a dozen half-read books around me at any given time, ranging from management books to biographies and literature. I have found anything written by Malcolm Gladwell worth reading.
What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"?
Life is defined by our time spent climbing up the sides of the mountain, not by the moment standing at the summit. However, without those "peak" moments, we are simply left with the slog. I celebrate the achievement of goals both small and large.
What time do you like to be at your desk?
I am an early riser. Usually I am up by 5:30 and at my desk by 8:30.
Exercise in the morning? Wine with lunch?
In the morning I usually work out or run four times a week. Because I am training for the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll marathon in June, I am running more often. No wine with lunch.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
I enjoy socializing with our team outside of the office. At the office there is the formal structure of communication through phones, email, and meetings. More often, it is in the informal times where you build relationships and cement friendships. A meal with a good bottle of wine is one of my favorite ways to socialize.
Last two books read:
I am halfway through Jon Meacham's latest book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. I just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
What technology do you take on the road?
I never travel without my laptop and my iPhone. With them I can take my entire office wherever I go.
How do you relax/balance life and work?
I find physical exercise a great way to relieve the stress of the office. I definitely get the endorphin rush after a run. Starting most mornings that way makes me feel like I have already accomplished something of value even before I have started at work. Additionally, I am fortunate to have a rich network of family and friends who fill my life with love and support.
Favorite vacation destinations:
My lifetime favorite vacation was traveling around the Andean countries of South America. While working on my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, I took a year break, bought a backpack, and traveled solo through Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. It was an extraordinary experience that influences me to this day.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
Any time I see a job well done, I like to send an email note congratulating the employee or thanking them for their efforts.
Favorite company product/service:
As you can imagine, Tasti D-Lite and Planet Smoothie are absolutely my favorite treats. Both companies have a history of offering amazingly delicious products that also are healthy for you. Outside of my own company, a favorite organization is Whole Foods Market. The quality of the food we eat and how it is processed (or not) is an essential element of maintaining good health. The selection and quality of the offerings at Whole Foods is remarkable. Their commitment to social responsibility is admirable.
What are your long-term goals for the company?
To dominate the "good and good for you treat" retail category. We have two amazing brands that work well together in a market that is increasingly driven by making better food choices in an increasingly convenient setting. We offer exactly what the consumer is seeking today.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company?
The Great Recession has significantly affected our business plan. Franchise financing has always played an accelerator role in franchise system growth. To date, franchise financing has not recovered, and this has slowed the expansion of many franchisors, including ourselves. We have adapted by focusing on non-traditional development and acquisitions.
Where can capital be found these days?
While traditional franchise financing has been difficult to obtain, private equity is playing an increasingly important role in the franchise community. They bring fresh capital to the business and allow founders to monetize all or part of their ownership in the business they created.
How do you measure success?
A mentor and great friend once defined success as "the pursuit of a worthwhile dream." I love this definition as it captures the aspirational nature of success tied deeply to the journey. I however, use a different definition. Most of life's valuable lessons come from overcoming the challenge. I measure success in the fact that I am here and have survived all the mistakes that I have made to this moment!
What has been your greatest success?
On a personal level, my greatest achievement is my marriage. My wife Terry and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary. We have experienced both great joys and hardships forging a special life together. We look forward to the next 30 years! Professionally, I would say my greatest success has been to build a career in the franchise community. Franchising is such a powerful business format that unleashes the very best in human performance. Who would not want to be a part of that!
I don't spend a great deal of time on regrets. My father once told me, "Learn from your mistakes, enjoy your successes, and don't try to second-guess your decisions once made. If you had done things differently, you would have just made different mistakes." I have tried to follow that advice.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months?
The continued integration of Planet Smoothie and Tasti D-Lite; accelerated growth through unit expansion; non-traditional development; and additional acquisitions.
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