In 1969, when high school senior Rodger Head took a job at a Burger King, he had no idea he was entering the business he would stick with for his entire career. One big reason was veteran restaurateur and franchisee Billy Trotter, who took the young man under his wing. "He had 19 Burger Kings then, and I stayed with him as he grew his company," says Head. "And I grew up in that company."
In 1985, when Trotter sold his company and started Rally's Hamburgers, Head, whose responsibilities also had grown, went with his mentor. They also became Papa John's franchisees and remained together until 1995, when Trotter retired. In 2000, Head became president of Shoney's. During his six years, he brought the organization's sales figures back into the black for the first time in more than a decade.
While searching for his next opportunity, the hard-working husband and father met with friend and current partner Clyde Culp, who had formed a private equity group. In 2007, the group bought bd's Mongolian Grill and revamped the brand into one known for its fresh ingredients (used to create your own stir-fry) and hip, Gen X/Y atmosphere. With that move, the longtime franchisee also became a franchisor.
"That seemed a natural evolution of my career and my relationship with Billy," says the CEO of the Burnsville, Minn.-based franchise. "He was a huge franchisee who became a franchisor after starting Rally's Hamburgers. I understood the franchisee side of the business and thought that would make me a better franchisor."
Today there are 35 bd's Mongolian Grills in 13 states, with more on the way. Head also works with his wife, Denise, vice president of marketing for bd's and a 25-year industry veteran.
Insisting he's an operator at heart, Head also continues as a 12-unit franchisee with Popeyes, which he describes as "one of the coolest brands out there today."
Having accomplished more than he'd ever imagined, and having learned about balance in life, Head, who now lives in Nashville, says he is focusing a lot of his time now on giving back. "I was always so lucky with my mentors--people like Billy Trotter and Clyde Culp and Jim Patterson. I'd like to be remembered as someone who was a good mentor and teacher, who taught young people how to be good leaders."
Name: Rodger Head
Title: President and CEO
Company: bd's Mongolian Grill
No. of units: Franchisor: 35 bd's Mongolian Grill in 13 states. Franchisee: 12 Popeyes Louisiana Kit
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