Life has not been easy--personally or professionally--for Chris Haque (pronounced Hawk), who was born in Dinajpur, Bangladesh.
He was only 15 when his sister came to the U.S. for medical treatment for leukemia. Thanks to his gift of his bone marrow donation, she lived three more years before the disease took her.
More recently, his 28-year-old brother also died of the disease. "Losing two members of my family to leukemia has been painful," he says.
He attended Hollywood High and he recalls seeing Steven Segal come by to perform for the students.
Haque took another hit when he was denied admission to California State University because he couldn't afford tuition. "I didn't know how to 'play the game' then," he recalls of his efforts to garner financial assistance. So he went to work as a manager at Church's Chicken and earned an associate degree in electronics.
A year later, the determined youth went back to Cal State, where he studied accounting and business to earn his undergraduate degree.
Because of his hard work, work ethic and initiative, he was promoted quickly-- area manager, director of operations--in Anil Kashep's 82 Church's franchises in California. Haque believes you have to create your own opportunities, so he took over HR, training, and operation compliance duties. Pretty soon he was in charge of three departments.
After 10 years, he left the company when a bankruptcy trustee took over. Haque then went to work for the largest Little Caesars Pizza franchisee in California at the time. Little did he know, it was a "nightmare" of a company that was preparing to file for bankruptcy. "I left without wasting any time there," he says.
Haque was rebuilding his career at Carl's Jr. in California when Aslam Khan asked him to join him in running his burgeoning Church's Chicken operation in Detroit. He did, and it provided some more great opportunities.
In 2002, he went to work for Shell Oil Co. as QSR regional director, opening 76 QSRs (Popeyes, Carl Jr., Church's and Wendy's inside gas stations) over two years in Phoenix, Chicago, and Indiana. When Shell closed their QSR operation to concentrate on the oil industry in 2002, Haque, whose family was growing by leaps and bounds, found himself laid off with only a severance package.
He used his severance money to invest in four KFCs in Chicago and went through negotiations with the bankers. At the last minute, a trustee called to say there was a third party lien on the properties and Haque couldn't take over. He went back to court and the judge ordered the shutdown of the restaurants, but in the end, he'd lost his last investment and still had legal fees to pay.
"That was a tough lesson," he recalls. But he didn't give up, deciding to go back "home" to California. He worked as director of operations for a company with Tony Roma's, Bennigan's and Carrows restaurants, learning more about the full-service restaurant business.
Then he took one more chance: he bought three Denny's Restaurants in Seattle and San Francisco. After a shaky start, the restaurants became high performers, and he has been able to continue to grow his own company, Haque Holdings in Seattle. Now he represents five brands, including the franchise he started with, Church's Chicken.
After spending the last few years rebuilding his business, Haque now plans to spend more time at home with his wife and four children. He likes "good restaurants, good scotch, and good conversation," he says, but he still seems to find work vastly entertaining.
His latest venture? His own international commodities trading operation, which exports precious and scrap metals. "People are buying these in volume," says Haque, who is getting ready to travel on business to Malaysia and Bangladesh. He expects sales to rise above $30 million over the coming year.
What he learned from watching his father do business and from his years in all aspects of franchising stands him in good stead in all his endeavors, he says.
Having watched his father run multiple businesses over the years, Haque is people-oriented, energetic, and possessed of a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
"I've learned that if you can get good people and treat them well, they'll take care of the business."
Name: Chris Haque (pronounced Hawk)
Title: President and CEO
Company: Haque Holdings
No. of units by brand: 5 Denny's, 3 Baja Fresh, 2 Church's Chicken (with 3 more opening soon), 1 Tortilla Flats, 1 Bennigan's Bar & Grill
Family: Wife, Lisa, and four children
Years in current position: 5
Years in franchising: 5
Key accomplishments: Just over five years ago, I was broke. I'd been laid off from Shell Oil, where I was QSR director, and moved back to California from Chicago. Buying the Denny's was risky but I'm pleased to be able to say that each year the restaurants have grown 200 percent. It took a lot of hard work.
Biggest mistake: I'm a little too soft-hearted, and people take advantage of me. I guess my biggest mistake was letting a relative convince me to go into Baja Fresh.
Smartest mistake: When I took a chance and bought the Denny's restaurants in San Francisco, it was a bold move--but one that's paid off. They're my most profitable restaurants.
How do you spend a day, typically? I'm up at 6 a.m. After I take my son and daughters to school, I go to the office where I start going through banking, looking into financials, making sure accounts payable are on time online, read email, look into operations, and make calls. I'll visit the restaurants too. I work 14-hour days. I have lots of energy and a passion for success.
Work week: It's 24/7 since I take notes on locations I drive by--that's how I find all my properties--and am constantly thinking and planning. But on Sunday, I usually stay home with the kids.
Favorite fun activities: I watch the stock market and play Wall Street with my 14-year-old son. I love to be creative and cook when I'm home. My kids love when Daddy cooks because he puts a twist on the food.
Exercise/workout: I don't really have a routine, but I'm on and off in the gym.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: iPhone
What are you reading? I read when I'm traveling--news magazines and articles. I recently read Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Big Money by Frederick Kubrick.
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? "Don't just go for the money. Have a greater purpose for what you do in the world." My employees are number one, along with my customers' experience. I want to be successful because I can contribute to the community and to society. That's my purpose.
Best advice you ever got: Eight years ago, I was trying to force things to happen, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't make it work. One of my friends told me, "Don't rush things, be patient." That friend was Aslam Khan, who has 164 Church's Chicken restaurants. I worked with him for 10 years as director of training and HR, and he was director of marketing.
Formative influences/events: When I was young, my mentor, Anil Kashap, gave me a safe place to fail at Church's. He gave me autonomy to do things and make mistakes and never yelled at me or discouraged me. It helped me build great self-confidence.
How do you balance life and work? This is my biggest challenge. In 2009, my goal is to have more time with family. Over the last five years, I've been running and working, rebuilding things. Now I'm going to use this year to organize and spend time with my family.
Business philosophy: It's not right to expect results from someone if you haven't made it clear what you want from them.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? Definitely customer service. We are in a people business. Day in and day out, they're who makes us successful.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Knowing where I came from, and my kids.
What's your passion in business? I want to see all my family and friends become successful. My life doesn't mean anything if I can't influence other lives for the better. I watched my Dad, who always had multiple business locations back home in Bangladesh. He's done very well by my uncles and all his employees.
Management method or style: I'm an HR-style manager. I don't necessarily look for immediate results. I will invest, train, and nurture people, set them up to succeed, and I'll benefit in the long term, rather than right away.
Greatest challenge: I need to be a bit tougher--not have too much empathy.
How close are you to operations? I'm very close to operations. I visit our restaurants regularly. If I need to sweep the floor, I will do it.
Personality: I'm serious but confident, and my inner circle gets to see my sense of humor.
How do others describe you? Some people may think I'm cocky, but it's not that. It's self-confidence that I've built over the years, again and again with different concepts. I am an HR trainer with experience in operations and compliance. I guess I'm good at juggling.
How do you hire and fire? I've been delegating some of the hiring, but I normally promote from within the organization. I believe opportunities should be made available first to those I already know. When it comes to firing, I look at all the facts and determine why they failed. Did I provide them the tools and knowledge they needed and teach them the skills required to succeed? If the answer is yes, we did all that, then, it's not difficult to let someone go.
How do you train and retain? We have a sound basic training program, and I do a monthly meeting at the office where I give a motivational talk, discuss my philosophy, and explain the numbers. We also have a great bonus program: a lot of operators get a percentage of ownership. One manager followed me from Chicago, and he's worked for me for over eight years. People want to work for me because they know I'm fair and they can grow with me.
Annual revenue: $20 million
2009 goals: $23 million
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? With the number of units and sales dollars.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? In 5 years, I still want to be myself, but I'd like to be in a position to become chairman of the board and let my team run the company. I would like to be a $70 million annual revenue company in 10 years. I have great people, like my right-hand woman--my wife--and others. I've also tried to train my son, but he doesn't want to do it. I'll just support and provide leadership. I won't be as involved in the day-to-day operation.
How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, your customers? Obviously, the economy is affecting us in sales, especially in Southern California. We have not laid off any employees so far, but we might have to reduce the hours a little. In fact, with three new restaurants opening up soon, I'm adding 100 jobs. I'd like to see the bailout plan work so we can get direct lending.
What are you doing different in this economy? We're just staying on top of the numbers day in and day out. We're looking at every area to try to minimize costs. A lot of contractors are out of work, so right now you can probably get things at a great price. In a good economy, you can't usually hire a great contractor.
How do you forecast for your business during these trying times? It's difficult. This year is especially challenging, so there's no forecast. Some market brands are flat and some will show a 3 percent decline, so it's hard to say.
Where do you find capital for expansion? I'm mostly using my cash flow since it's difficult to get funding now.
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