Leading by Example: Partners Care for Employees and Community
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Leading by Example: Partners Care for Employees and Community

Leading by Example: Partners Care for Employees and Community

Checkers co-franchisees Bruce Keehn and Andrew Lynn don't seek photo ops or newspaper articles about all the good they do in their communities. But their actions speak volumes.

In 1996, when race riots ensued after a white police officer shot a 28-year-old black man in Paterson, N.J., news footage showed Checkers bags atop police cars, where Keehn and his people had placed them. In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, their staff could be found everywhere giving away free Checkers food, even though one of their own restaurants had been hit hard.

"Everything that has happened in this area in the past 20 years, we've been there," says Keehn, who spent years at Burger King corporate before becoming a Checkers franchisee. "We're blessed to have been accepted into this community and we take every opportunity to support it and have an impact."

Lynn--an active board member of the Checkers/Rally's Employee Relief Fund since it was established in 2005--and Keehn have an ironclad philosophy about the way they give, says Keehn. "Andrew and I feel that we want to help the community, so we never say no, no matter what the business pressures are. But we've never written a check, because if we did it once we'd have to do it for everybody. We give away free food and thousands of Checkers t-shirts."

The longtime friends come from very different backgrounds. Keehn came from a New Jersey restaurant family and worked while going to college. Lynn comes from "old money," lives in Bellleair, Fla., where he has a real estate business. But both share a passion for people and for Checkers.

"We're diehard franchisees for Checkers. Andrew didn't know anything about fast food when we started, so he went to Checkers' management training program and loved it. He's on the Franchise Advisory Council and stays on top of things, and is on his local hospital board of directors. He volunteers at the hospital five days a week," says Keehn. "Before we became co-franchisees, I'd always worked for somebody else, but Andrew's been so supportive of our family, and through this relationship my wife and I have been able to take care of our children and enjoy our three grandchildren."

Family members are an important part of the company. Keehn's wife, Lisa, a Burger King "star" for 20 years, is director of operations, and daughter Staci, currently director of education and development, is being groomed to take over the company. "I'm getting Staci ready to take the business to the next level and to help our people become successful," he says. "I'm going to enjoy myself--like I'm doing today, pushing the stroller in the mall with my grandchildren."

Name: Bruce Keehn and Andrew Lynn
Title: Keehn: COO, managing member; Lynn, president, managing member, Best Burger Management, Sea Girt, N.J.
No. of units: Checkers Drive-In, 7
Age: Keehn, 60; Lynn, 65
Family: Keehn: wife Lisa, daughter Staci, son Bruce who does the landscaping for all the restaurants, daughter Evelyn, entering graduate school
Years in franchising: 40
Years in current position: 20

Personal (Keehn)

Formative influences/events:
Family--our relatives, the people we work with, and our customers--is what it's all about. It's not about buildings or sales, it's about our guests and employees.

Key accomplishments:
In 20 years' time, our management turnover is nonexistent. We pride ourselves on the fact that our average manager has been with us for 15 years, and we treat them like family. We look at the total needs of our managers, many of whom are inner-city managers who don't have mentors or parents who can write checks when they need help. We give loans or help with specific needs. In fact, we even design bonuses around people with certain needs.

Work week:
I'm a light sleeper and I still do a 70-hour work week, but it's different. I'm not in the restaurants 70 hours a week. I may be up late at night working on marketing or business plans. I have more flexibility now.

What are you reading?
Lately I've been rereading Tom Peters' In Search of Excellence.

Best advice you ever got:
Don't let the standards down.

What's your passion in business?
Helping people to succeed.


Business philosophy:
Do it right.

Management method or style:
Lead by example. Don't expect anything from somebody that you wouldn't do yourself.

Greatest challenge:
Probably meeting the standards I have in my mind, the success that I have for people in my heart.

How do others describe you?
One word: relentless.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain?
My wife Lisa, who is only 49 but who has been in this business for 35 years, stays on top of what's new in training, products, and programs. Our people stay because they know we're sincere and that we care about their success.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
$8 million.

2014 goals:
To open new restaurants and continue to prepare my daughter Staci to take over the company.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
Through sales, turnover, what we've accomplished for managers, various metrics.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 10 years?
In 5 years, I'd like to have opened up three more Checkers. I'd like to have my daughter actively running the company and me assisting before 10 years.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
Besides offering what we feel is fair compensation, we have numerous bonus programs. We try to offer consistency too, because I've found that without it, you have nothing. We're so happy with the core business values of Rick Silva and the current executive group at Checkers that we use the same ones day in and day out. When we talk about core values--what's important, people, growth, guests, bonuses--we're identical to corporate.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
Preparing my daughter to take over the business.

2014 MVP Community Involvement Leadership Award
For Providing An Example For Others To Follow In Franchise Success

Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
Really, it comes down to the folks at Checkers. We don't broadcast what we do. We've won every award Checkers offers, but we're just as happy when someone else is getting it.

How have you raised the bar in your own company?
We never lower it. We're always challenging ourselves.

What innovations have you created and used to build your company?
We innovate on a daily basis, from marketing to the curb appeal of our restaurants. We're constantly improving the look of our restaurants so that not only are we the cleanest, most appealing businesses in our neighborhoods, but we find others around us improving themselves too, so the city will look better.

What core values do you think helped you win this award?
Putting people first, whether it's guests, employees, or family members of employees.

How important is community involvement to you and your company?
It's everything--it's where the business starts. Word spreads quickly. One person will tell seven people about a bad visit, whereas they may not mention the good ones. If a community doesn't see that you care, it won't let you become involved. We're blessed to be involved because we show them, quietly, that we're sincere and consistent.

What leadership qualities are important to you and to your team?
Attitude and standards. You don't give up, no matter what. We had miserable sales this winter because of the weather, and Hurricane Sandy shut down one of our stores last year. We got back into business and did what we had to do for our company and the community.

Published: November 7th, 2014

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