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Every day is game time for Denny’s operator


Donnell Thompson

You’re among a storied handful of top-level athletes that went on to franchising. Why are pro athletes adept at franchising?

We can be coached, and we can coach. I tell my people that I’m no more than the head coach on my team; my managers are my assistant coaches. I make a team every day. I played for the Indianapolis Colts for a long time. There’s a whole lot of coaching going on and a whole bunch of good team players. It’s no different than in business: putting the right people together to manage the bumps in the road.

What are some bad plays you see people making in business?

I know people that let their general mangers stay home on Sunday. How can I let my general manager stay home on Sunday? It’s one of the biggest days in my business. I look for someone who’s come from a sports business or a military business. They know when it’s third-and-one at 10 a.m., they understand it’s not time to punt. When it’s game time I don’t need Peyton Manning sitting at his house.

Who were some key players in your career?

My business partner Ron Wooten is a financier; he’s pretty much a hands-off, numbers, banking kind of guy that knows that side of the world extremely well. With my knowledge of operations and his knowledge of the financial piece, it makes it so that when we have the opportunity to move on something, we can do it fairly fast and can get a much better price.

What were some key experiences outside of football?

McDonald’s was my teacher. I give them all the credit. I was a golden hat winner at Hamburger University and I just kept up with that training.

What did you look for when you were searching for a new brand after McDonald’s?  

You really have to look at the totality of the brand. The product can be a great product that you’re selling, but you really need to know the people that run the brand because those people are your partners. It’s just as easy to have a great partner as a partner that you don’t see things the same.

What are red flags when you’re vetting those prospective partners?

If you’re dealing with a corporation that is more or less open all around, that’s a great thing. When I go to someone’s corporate office and I don’t see anyone that looks like me, a black man, that’s probably not who I want to be in business with.

Nicholas Upton

Staff writer Nicholas Upton asks what makes multi-unit operators tick—and presents their slightly edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email nupton@franchisetimes.com.

What’s some of the best coaching you can give?

Grow one thing at a time. Some people say they want to be here or want to be there. We look at it one deal at a time. We’ll turn down 10 deals to get 1.

How do you choose your team?

When we do find someone who is good for us, we’re jumping up for joy. When people make a mistake, they hold on to the mistake too long. Just as I’m jumping up for joy for the good ones, when I make a mistake, it’s not pleasant and I have to let them go, but business isn’t all pleasant.

What advice do you have for others?

Make smart decisions. Ultimately when people are not successful, I can take you back to some bad decisions, whether...on real estate, staffing, spending.

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