The American Dream
Jim Mizes is the Former CEO & President of Blaze Pizza. Jim's career spans over 39 years in the foodservice industry. Jim has held executive positions at global brands including President Freebirds, President Noah's Bagels, VP Operations Jamba Juice, VP Operations Taco Bell, VP Operations Winchell's.
I started working in retail when I was 6 years old and could count money. My father owned a neighborhood pharmacy with an old fashion candy and nuts counter. My brother and I sold nuts and candy on the weekends. When I was 12, my father let me paint "price discount specials" on the windows. My first experience with marketing and how price impacts demand. I was immediately struck by how messaging on windows could positively impact sales. Whatever we featured on the window at a good price sold quickly. What instant feedback! Looking back, was that the "spark" that led to the discounting and marketing of my future with Taco Bell? It certainly could be!
After receiving an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and an MBA in finance/accounting at UCLA, I started working in corporate finance at Greyhound Corp. Greyhound was much more than a bus company. It was a conglomerate of 200+ companies under the Greyhound banner. My first job out of the MBA program was corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic planning. That sounds like a great job…..NOT! Deep down I was pursuing the path others expected of me, but burning inside was a desire to impact the business directly and lead others. I was a financial analyst learning about business….but many steps removed.
So, after my wife graduated and took a job in LA, I moved to Hunt Wesson as a financial analyst. My boss, and mentor still today, Rakesh Kaul, helped to develop me and helped refine my analytic and influencing skills. He encouraged me to lead others and after 3 years at Hunt Wesson, I moved to Winchell's/Denny's in financial planning. Once again, I had a boss who saw potential in me and asked me to take on the controller role on my way to the CFO role. I did not like accounting or looking back. I preferred to work with Operations and Marketing to drive the business. So, as I turned down the promotion, my boss said, "Jim…you don't' want to be a 50-year-old financial planning guy and if you want to continue your financial career, you should take this controller role….otherwise, you should consider operations as you are so good with people."
I went home and spoke with my family. Remember, I had a burning desire to directly impact the business. This was my chance. So….after speaking with family, I dropped my career in finance and began training as a restaurant GM at Winchell's. Yes, I made donuts at night. I was not the best donut maker, but I could relate to the GMs and their teams and built a good business. I was promoted to District Manager and then my career took off. I marketed the brand a bit differently, recognized great performers, and within 6 months we had the best district. This led to 2 more promotions over 2 years before I was recruited to join Taco Bell.
At Taco Bell, again I had wonderful bosses and mentors who saw potential in me. My mentor, David Peterman, still a close friend today, supported and guided me as I went from GM to DM to Area Coach to Franchise Business Manager to Regional VP. I helped Taco Bell launch 59/79/99 Run for the Border in 1989 that changed fast food…forever. At Taco Bell, I challenged the status quo and quickly realized I had talents that could help start-up brands grow. So, after 6 years and 5 promotions, I left to help Noah Alper grow Noah's Bagels as the VP Ops and 2 years later as President.
I learned in scaling a business that restaurants are much like a football team. The role of everyone is to support the GM so the GM can deliver the brand experience of quality food, customer service, and speed, and cleanliness. The GM and her/his team are the stars and everyone else is lineman clearing the way for the stars to shine. However, that is not how most restaurant companies are run. So…as I built organizations, the approach and actions were always about how do we make life better, easier, and more convenient for the management teams inside the restaurant? The answer was always, training, development, structure, feedback, recognition, and always listening to the voice of the customer and the GM. Together, teams I worked with built many companies from Noah's to Jamba to Blaze Pizza with these pillars and the ultimate foundation of mission, vision, purpose, and guiding principles/values. Those are the keys to scaling a brand that can endure.
I would like to share a few lessons or nuggets that shaped my career and approach to business:
1. Update your resume every 6 months. If after 1 year you can not add a significant statement to your resume, then either you are stale or the company is stale. Either way, that is a signal to change. We all must continue to grow and demonstrate how we contribute to our business.
2. If you love your work, you will never work a day in your life.
3. Do what you love…..play your strengths…and be true to yourself. Sure…we all want to be aware of our weaknesses and develop areas to "round us out" yet truly enjoy your work and love your job, it is best to follow these 3 principles.
4. People don't care what you know until they know you care. Over and over, especially in turnaround situations, people want to see your heart before you extend your hand. For years, I hand-wrote birthday and anniversary cards to all employees so they knew I cared and showed them my heart.
5. Data is useless…..Information is powerful. The role of analysts and people early in their careers is to synthesize the data and provide insights to leaders.
6. Mentors are critical….so seek them out inside and outside the company. Bosses/supervisors are important, yet don't forget that their boss/supervisor has as much or more influence over your career. Develop a relationship with your boss and your boss's boss. It matters.
7. There is a reason we all have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Or why the front windshield is large and the rearview mirror is small. Listen more. Drive forward.
8. Take responsibility for all situations and especially shortfalls. Always ask yourself, "what was my role or how did I contribute to the situation…good or bad?" When we take responsibility and help others see their roles in the situation, then solutions can begin to emerge.
9. 4 mantras for life and challenges:
a. I am grateful for……
b. I am "fill in the blank" such as kind, real, authentic, etc.
c. I am Powerful because….
d. I am becoming…… Think about it. When we are 8 we want to be a teenager. When we are a teen, we want to be 21. When we are 21 we want something else. We want to be something/someone else, but what about "just be" or "be present"….NOW….IN THIS MOMENT….TODAY! WE ACTUALLY GET TO THE FUTURE BY BEING PRESENT NOW! POWERFUL!
Finally, after 39 years leading brands, I retired in 2019. Since then, I have been recruited to join multiple boards. Some in restaurants, some in technology that supports restaurants, and some in B2B beverages. I am attracted to entrepreneurs who see the value of my experience, who want to disrupt their industries, and who are bold and determined. My role is to guide them away from some of the mistakes of start-ups and to always mentor/guide them. The challenge for most Board members is to provide powerful feedback to the CEO. The growth/development/ maturity of the CEO is most important for a growth company to stay on track and achieve its goals.
The companies I currently support as a Board Member/Advisor are:
Pincho: A 10 unit burger and kabob concept out of Miami. I am the Chairman of the Board.
Rackson Restaurants: A Burger King franchisee with 50+ units in the Northeast and growth potential with BK and other franchisors. I am a Board Director
SiteZeus: The leading real estate site selection software company in the USA. The company deploys machine learning and AI to help growth companies select the best real estate for growth as well as to measure impact and plan outgrowth in every city. I am a Board Director
Workstream: Applicant Tracking Software focused on helping restaurant managers hire hourly staff. Leveraging text messaging, mobile phones, job boards, and more, this software company is leading the way in making it easy, convenient, and hassle-free to find and hire hourly workers. I am a Board Advisor
I am an advisor to a few other start-ups that are early in coming to market. More to come and more stories to tell!
I have been lucky enough to have many great mentors throughout my life. I want to give special acknowledgment to the mentors who have truly helped propel my career including Rakesh Kaul, David Peterman, Noah Alper, David Lowe, my coach, Dale Collier, and most importantly, my father, Harvey Mizes.
If you are reading this and enjoyed learning about my journey and want to connect, drop me a note on LinkedIn. I always enjoy meeting new people and growing my network.