Monday, October 08, 2001

Business leader has advice for students

Follow your dream - and work hard

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        OXFORD — Dreams are powerful — and necessary — guides on the journey to success. That was a central theme of remarks by business leader Herman Cain last week to Miami University.

Herman Cain, Chairman of Godfather's Pizza, gestures as he answers questions from Miami University students.
(Michael Snyder
Cincinnati Enquirer)
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        “I was always self-motivated by my dream,” he told students during the Firstar Bank Distinguished Lecture on “Motivation, Leadership and the American Dream.”

        He stressed the importance of dreaming big in order to be successful. “Dreams give you that passion, that inspiration,” he said during his talk at MU's Farmer School of Business.

        Mr. Cain has lived what many consider to be the American dream. Born into a poor rural family in the South, he watched his parents work hard to provide a future for their children.

        “I'll never forget the encouragement given me by my high school math teacher,” he recalled. “He said, "Herman Cain, you can be anything you want to be. You just might have to work a little harder and you might have to work a little longer.'”

        That advice served him well as the young man pursued a degree in math from Morehouse College and then a master's in computer science from Purdue University. It sustained him as he entered the corporate world at Pillsbury and later tested his abilities by taking on two foundering food businesses.

        “I just kept expecting it to be hard, so when it was, I wasn't surprised,” he said. “If you are following your dream, you will put up with the speedbumps on the journey to success — the things that get between you and your dream.”

        Mr. Cain was the first African-American elected president of the National Restaurant Association. He was named one of Ebony magazine's 100 most influential Black Americans in 1997 and again in 1999. He is the author of three motivational books: Speak as a Leader, Leadership is Common Sense and the recently published CEO of Self.

        He shared with students the motto he lives by.

        “Hope is the key to happiness, and happiness is the key to success. It has been my experience in my career that when I was happy, I was successful. When you're happy you don't worry about that 40-hour week.”

        Mr. Cain has gained a reputation as a turnaround specialist. After having reached a senior position with Pillsbury, he left to learn about making hamburgers at Burger King. After mastering the operation from patties on up, he became vice president and general manager for 400 Burger King units in the Philadelphia region, the company's poorest-performing area. Within three years, that region became the company's strongest.

        After exerting his touch on the hamburger chain, he joined the financially troubled Godfather's Pizza and has provided that com pany with a recipe for success.

        “Both organizations lacked focus,” he said. “They didn't know where they were going. Both organizations lacked inspiration. They lacked a clear definition of what the problems were. That's what I had to provide as leader. I helped them develop focus and helped them identify and work on the right problems. I inspired them to believe we could make it happen.”

        Instead of becoming enmeshed in business theory, Mr. Cain likes to keep his approach simple and direct.

        “When I started at Godfather's Pizza, I would go to the restaurants and see first hand what was going on. I wanted to stay close to the customer and see what the problems were.

        “One night, I went to the back of one of our restaurants and spoke with Jason, one of the shift workers. I asked him what he thought the trouble was.”

        The employee told his new chief that the chain offered too many toppings.

        “Jason said there were 15 toppings, but customers only ordered 10. We were creating unnecessary complexity,” Mr. Cain continued with a broad grin. “We didn't need to do market research, we asked Jason.”


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