Guillermo Perales, president and CEO of Sun Holdings Inc., oversees one of the nation’s largest restaurant franchise businesses and one of the largest Hispanic-owned companies. Over the years, he has grown his empire through aggressive development and opportunistic acquisitions.
Dallas-based Sun Holdings operates more than 700 Burger King, Popeyes, Arby’s, Cicis, Golden Corral and Krispy Kreme restaurants, and in addition operates GNC stores and T-Mobile locations. Most of Sun Holdings’ locations are in Florida and Texas.
Perales spoke with former Golden Chain Award winner and previous Norman Award winner Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Inc., to discuss leadership and industry trends.
Cheryl Bachelder: I’d love for people [reading] this to hear about how you ended up in the restaurant business. You’ve got a great story.
Guillermo Perales: Thank you, Cheryl. I mean, it’s been fun. I’ve been with Popeyes since ’99 and we’ve been doing a lot of work with you for many years as you came on. You brought us to the next level with Popeyes. The restaurant business is just a great segment in franchising. Franchising to me is a way to start a business in a safer way. Franchising provides opportunities and franchising helps you with lenders. You’re part of a large system. … So to me, franchising is definitely a safe risk. …
I really think having different brands helps us diversify and maybe in the bigger picture avoid cycles that sometimes franchisors have. So as long as our concepts don’t compete with each other it’s been really good to allocate dollars to the concepts that are really doing better and probably not grow the concepts that are not doing that great. So it just helps to diversify the risk.
CB: Being a major developer, you’re kind of on the forefront of the trends in our business. What’s changed about the franchising opportunity in the last several years?
GP: Many things. Obviously, there is a lot more concepts, a lot more franchisees. So the competitive landscape is getting tougher and tougher. There are a lot of new concepts, a lot of new franchisees and only a few resonate with the consumer. So you want to be with the ones that are having a good run.
Operations also ... it’s harder to find people so operations are key to growth. You really have to be on the top of operations.
As the competition gets tougher you really have to have a good relationship with the franchisors. Franchisors sometimes go through ups and downs, a new CEO makes changes and maybe at that time you don’t grow there and you grow somewhere else. I think really having different concepts helps me kind of keep our company growing and helps me minimize risk and keep offering growth opportunities for our management and our employees.
CB: Guillermo, you read Nation’s Restaurant News, which is my favorite industry magazine. We’re always talking about the challenges. What is the challenge that you worry most about?
GP: The big challenge is, how can we deliver great operational excellence? How do we do that? It’s really a constant challenge because training, hiring, training — there’s always training, training, training. How do we do it better? What mistakes are we making? How can we improve? That’s always a big one.
The other one is the government doesn’t make things easier. … Every year we have something new. This year you have the joint employer, the overtime rule, one thing after the other. You have to kind of navigate through it. But at the end it’s not really stopping most of the franchisees. Most of the franchises are still growing [and] want to make their business bigger.
What it means to be a great leader
CB: One of the things I’ve been impressed with is how you support your employees in the communities where you serve. Can you talk a little bit about that?
GP: The restaurant industry has been criticized for minimum wage and a lot of different things. I think we provide opportunities. Opportunities for people to start at a minimum wage and then that person can grow as big as they want. … We give [employees] increases as fast as they can get certified in different positions. … They can be assistant managers, then they can be managers, they can be district managers. We do provide a lot of growth opportunity, and I think our industry is great on that.
The other thing that we do as a company, we … raise money for scholarships. In 2015, we gave probably around 300 scholarships. We also have some certificates of achievement that we give back to schools close to our restaurants and we mail out close to five million of those every year. We also give free meals close to 15,000 people for Veterans Day. We try to be very active in the community that we operate.
CB: I would love to hear what you think it means to be a great leader. Just two or three of the traits that you really admire in great leaders and aspire to be yourself.
GP: Leadership in my company, the way I see this, is like I’m on a boat. I’m providing the direction and we’re a big team of 14,000 people and we’re always working in the right direction. You don’t want people jumping out. You want that boat to keep going forward and looking for opportunities to grow the company. For me to keep in the right direction I really have to be focused, making sure that we’re always doing the right thing, making sure that we’re making progress. It’s constant learning. I have to keep watching what other people are doing, getting ideas from other people and picking other people’s brains. So if we’re doing something wrong we can correct that, and do that right and try to provide the right leadership, because I don’t know everything. But the more I learn, the more I see, the more I learn about best practices, I can provide that to my whole team.
CB: You’re often mentioned as one of the largest Hispanic-owned franchisees in the country, maybe even the world. I would love to hear what advice you would give young people in business, particularly Hispanics and minorities?
GP: Definitely the restaurant industry, franchising, is the best way to start a business. I mean you would get financing, you would get a lot of guidance from your franchisor. You just need to understand or learn from other peers on what they’re doing to be successful. To me, the obstacle is, don’t think about it too much. It’s like when you’re trying to learn to swim … I mean, you have to have the courage to start jumping into that water and get it going. Here is the same. Don’t overthink it or procrastinate. Just do it. I mean jump into it and get going. Our industry is great and there’s plenty of opportunity for everybody.