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… 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.