Only the Best: Anil Yadav Still Works Hard at Perfection

Only the Best: Anil Yadav Still Works Hard at Perfection

Anil Yadav has graced the pages of this magazine before. He's well-known as a man whose work ethic took him from a Jack in the Box fry cook to the brand's largest franchisee, with 227 restaurants. Following his success as a Jack in the Box and Denny's multi-brand operator, he has been busy growing his portfolio substantially over the past decade. When we first met him in 2008, he had a combined 94 locations for his Jack in the Box and Denny's units. Today he has nearly quadrupled that number through growth and by adding more brands... not to mention adding three golf courses/resorts to his holdings. It was definitely time to catch up!

Yadav says much has changed in the marketplace since we last spoke in 2012, not all for the better. "Competition has been in a more discounting mode and government intrusion is the other significant challenging factor we've been facing," he says. "Affordable healthcare has not been affordable for us or our employees. Margins have been compromised due to many other associated costs beyond our control. Consumer demand and technology has also changed the way we do business."

Still, he has been on a growth trajectory that would be difficult to rival. Yadav says his development has been motivated in part by a desire to diversify into other restaurant concepts and markets, such as casual dining with TGI Fridays, to complement his fast casual brands. It's a strategy he'd employed before when he expanded from fast food pioneer Jack in the Box to family dining with Denny's. He's also been looking to spread his portfolio geographically, beyond his previous dominance with Jack in the Box and Denny's in Texas and California. With many of his new locations in the Southeast and Midwest, Yadav says he is better able to spread the risk and take advantage of the economy and business opportunities in different markets.

In the years since 2012, Yadav has added 10 more Jack in the Box locations, 10 more Denny's, and has expanded into several new brands: TGI Fridays, Corner Bakery, El Pollo Loco, Marco's Pizza, and Sizzler. He says his mission is to be the most admired franchisee in every brand he operates.

Then there are his California golf and resort holdings, one in Southern California, and two in the Silicon Valley region. In 2012, he led an investment team that purchased the 172-acre Pala Mesa Resort in Fallbrook (between Los Angeles and San Diego). In 2016, he purchased the Bridges Golf Course and Resort in San Ramon, and the Eagle Ridge Golf Course in Gilroy (about an hour south of his base in Fremont). In all three cases, he says, the price and the opportunity seemed right. "We're reinvesting in the golf courses and the surrounding areas and I think it's going well," he says.

New concepts, whether franchise brands or golf courses, often mean different operational management structures, but throughout Yadav maintains his usual nose-to-the-grindstone approach. "We have some learning to do every time we get involved with a new brand," he says. "But it's just a matter of learning, making adjustments, and getting the operations perfectly incorporated and streamlined. Everything else will fall into place."

Yadav remains dedicated to looking for and hiring the best people he can find all across his organization, empowering them, and promoting from within. After all, that's how he began. "I still tell people that I started as an employee--and if I can do it, anyone can," he says.

After 28 years in franchising, Yadav says there are likely more acquisitions ahead, and he's toyed with the idea of becoming a franchisor himself. He's one dominant franchisee who would likely make a dominant franchisor.

Name: Anil Yadav
Title: President/CEO
Company: Yadav Enterprises
No. of units: Jack in the Box, 227; TGI Fridays, 75; Denny's, 39; El Pollo Loco, 12; Corner Bakery Cafe, 11; Marco's Pizza, 5; Sizzler, 5
Age: 53
Family: Wife Vandana, sons Akaash 25, Aman 21, daughter Aanchal 15
Years in franchising: 28
Years in current position: 28

Personal

First job:
Worked at Jack in the Box as a fryer in 1984.

Formative influences/events:
I grew up with seven siblings in one home trying to make ends meet. Those days I wasn't working to thrive, I was working to survive. That kind of perseverance kept with me throughout my entire career. Succeeding out of necessity built the foundation of my character.

Key accomplishments:
I feel as though I have many key accomplishments, both in my business and personal lives. I've helped and supported many family members and friends in achieving their goals in terms of business. But my greatest accomplishment is my family. I have a beautiful, loving wife, and three smart, grounded children who support me and have shown their own talents.

Biggest current challenge:
There are several challenges, but I would say that the biggest current ones are keeping up with the changing environment. It's tougher to recruit and retain talent in some markets and government intrusion surely doesn't help, especially in California. It is also challenging to keep up with competition and retaining positive transactions. It is required to stay relevant in our business in order to maintain growth.

Next big goal:
Maintain what we have built over the years. Possibly acquire additional brands, become a franchisor.

First turning point in your career:
I came to this great country and I was given the opportunity to be a worker and then a manager at Jack in the Box. The turning point was when Jack in the Box believed in me and gave me the chance to purchase my first restaurant at the age of 25.

Best business decision:
Purchasing my first restaurant and sticking to the fundamental beliefs of what it takes to run a successful business. Then acquiring 25 restaurants in 2003 and 2004, which helped me to be part of the bigger picture and learn how to manage a larger organization.

Hardest lesson learned:
Growing too fast without the infrastructure to support it. I went from 7 locations to 34 in less than 6 months in 2003 and 2004 and thought I could build the structure as I went. I learned very quickly that you need to have the right people to lead before you grow.

Work week:
10-plus hours a day as I did when I bought the first restaurant in 1989, but never off the clock.

Exercise/workout:
I try to work out two to three times a week, but it is tough to stay consistent with the kind of work schedule and traveling I do.

Best advice you ever got:
Work hard but maintain a balanced professional and personal life. Keep focused and don't let the surrounding noise distract you. Advice from my dad: "Don't let anybody stop you from what you believe in" and "Your word is your bond."

What's your passion in business?
Hard work and being successful in what I do. Help people in our team to be successful and help my people grow with our company. I believe that it is easy to make a dollar, but you have to work twice as hard to maintain that dollar. I am passionate about building the right team to lead our organization and take care of them.

How do you balance life and work?
It is sometimes challenging to balance life and work, but I do take vacations annually with my family and do my best to disconnect from time to time.

Guilty pleasure:
I love spicy food (sometimes it doesn't love me) and work too hard.

Favorite book:
I find that I don't have the time or patience to finish the books I pick up, but I read articles and magazines.

Favorite movie:
"Groundhog Day," but I love the action movie genre too.

What do most people not know about you?
How I keep calm in business and how I deal with challenges with so much patience.

Pet peeve:
Dealing with people who will put ego before good business sense. I learned a long time ago that in business you don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
To be the best with whatever I do and be a successful businessman.

Last vacation:
Cruise to Alaska over the summer with family.

Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
My people or friends.

Management

Business philosophy:
If you have to think twice about something, don't do it. It is all a team effort and it is important to take care of your people as they take care of you.

Management method or style:
Do the right thing at all times and take care of your people and provide support.

Greatest challenge:
Spending time with everyone in my organization like I was able to do when I had fewer locations. I miss them because I am busy with many other parts of the business.

How do others describe you?
Successful, smart, hardworking, and caring, and dare I say, humble.

One thing I'm looking to do better:
To relax and organize more.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
I empower my people and build the trust so they can do their jobs better. I continue to be innovative and expect my people to do the same, as that keeps us fresh in thinking. I also encourage collaboration because I believe that different ideas can lead us to be more productive and successful.

How close are you to operations?
Very close. I spend a lot of time with my leaders and visit the stores every opportunity I get.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
Provide operations and marketing support to compete and succeed in current market conditions. And to continue to build upon the culture and strength franchisors have built.

What I need from vendors:
To be innovative in coming up with new ideas that can resonate with guests and simplify ops.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
Yes, I see many marketing strategies change with brands in order to compete, including discounting, new products, and improving the quality of product. The biggest thing we continue to focus on is the execution within our four walls with guest experience. We also have focused on pricing by not pricing ourselves out of the market.

How is social media affecting your business?
Social media has become a huge part of communication in our business space. It has a big effect on our business because the impact, positive or negative, is instantaneous. It is very important nowadays what people say about your business on social media as they influence the decision-making of guests as to where they want to indulge themselves.

How do you hire and fire?
It mostly depends on what position we need. We have used recruiting firms for higher positions and also have used recruitment websites and traditional communications at the restaurant level. I believe in promoting people from within before we recruit outside the company.

How do you train and retain?
We have a training department responsible for training our people, and our DO and DMs are trained to train their people in four walls. We have monthly and quarterly leadership meetings to refresh what they know and to remind them of what they have learned.

How do you deal with problem employees?
We work with them and communicate with opportunities and a development plan for them to get better. If it is a training issue then we train them, but we have no tolerance for dishonesty. We maintain clear communication with employees, and if they don't meet the expectation we cut the cord quickly.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue:
$625 million.

2018 goals:
Do better than 2017.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
Be better than the previous year, every year.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
I want to see our organization be an admired organization and to be able to transition to my children so I can take a back seat and enjoy a bit within the next 10 years.

How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers?
Currently, we have to deal with rising minimum wages, competing brands, and low unemployment environments that make it very difficult to hire and retain good employees. A good economy brings its own challenges as the work pool is smaller.

Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
Yes, but everyone is fighting for the same business, and the best operated restaurants are enjoying better success.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
The cost of doing business is different every year, andthe margin continues to be challenging with the rising cost from labor and food and government agency intrusion. Building costs have also risen and have been challenging to make the model work from a construction point of view.

What are the best sources for capital expansion?
Business savings and traditional banks.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
I am fortunate to have had great working relationships with national banks for years. We also deal with local banks for many projects as they have great programs for a few projects that are local. We have not had any challenges in getting financing from our bank, as we have not over leveraged and continue to work hard to keep our leverage where it is manageable in a downturn situation.

What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We have many initiatives in place, from benefits to bonus plan and ongoing incentives, to recognize their hard work. We do care for our employees and do our best to recognize and reward them for their good behavior.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
It is very tough to pass these costs on to the guests as these are changing at a more rapid pace than we can figure out how to deal with. We are seeing our margin shrinking with all these rising costs. We have been hit hard with healthcare and new minimum wage requirements.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
We have bonus plans with many incentives and competition programs, such as the double-digit club where we take the winners out to dinner and give cash rewards. We also have the annual Circle of Excellence awards where we take the high-performing managers on an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
My kids will take over. Akaash is finishing his MBA from UCLA and Aman is getting his pre-law degree from American University.

Published: April 19th, 2018

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