Randy Kibler is the first one to tell you his leadership style is derived from lessons learned as a youth—first from his parents and then from his business mentor, ex-pro-footballer and entrepreneur Jerry Richardson.
Those influences, in addition to a keen intellect, deep faith and self-deprecating sense of humor, have impacted not only his life, but also the way he conducts his business—fairly and with integrity.
As president and chief executive of Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Kibler has steered the 450-unit quick-service chicken chain into positive sales territory. The company expects to generate more than $600 million in annual revenues this year, just two years since it was acquired by Richardson and private-equity firm Falfurrias Capital Partners in 2007.
Executives also say the company has a more open and better relationship with franchisees than it had before—a tough assignment given the difficult economic climate.
Kibler credits Richardson with fostering his business skills.
“All of us are influenced heavily by other people,” he says. “Fortunately, I had great parents and got an introduction to Jerry Richardson at an early age. He was a big influence on me. He hired great people, and I learned a lot from him. He’s someone who not only has very high standards, but ethics and values. He believes in teamwork, harmony, respect, listening, discipline, treating people fairly and working hard.”
The two first met in 1972, when Kibler was a teenager working at a Hardee’s restaurant that Richardson owned.
“I met him under circumstances most don’t get to experience,” Kibler says. “At the time I was entering my first year in college. I had let my hair grow a little longer, not real long, but over my ears. [The restaurant] had a policy that hair should be worn above the ears and off the collar. I was the assistant manager and my manager wasn’t the greatest. He said I should get a haircut, and I told him I didn’t think I could do that. At the time, I was helping this [local football] coach on the side. I told him what had happened and he agreed it was not fair. He knew Jerry Richardson and called him up—on a Sunday—and told him about the situation.”
Kibler says Richardson visited the store a short time later and asked to speak with him.
“We had a conversation in the back of the store; he didn’t want anyone to think he was unfair,” Kibler recalls. “I told him that if someone had just said to trim the hair it would have been a different story, but this was pretty radical. He told me to get it cut according to the standards I thought it should be. He even paid for the haircut. I got it cut halfway over my ears and just down the collar. And when I got to work the next day, the regional supervisor was there and said he thought it looked good. The next day after that there was a policy stating hair should look the way mine did.”
That event made a huge impression on Kibler because, he says, “here’s an ex-NFL player, a CEO of a big company, who drives 90 miles to see a kid he doesn’t know because someone told him I thought something was unfair.”
Ever since, Kibler has followed suit, making sure he is as accessible to his team as Richardson was and still is to him.
“Those same values are ones we establish in any business we’re involved in,” he says. “After 26 years spent with the company that Mr. Richardson founded, then with a couple of restaurants we founded on our own and now at Bojangles’, we apply those values directly to the people who work for us.”
Kibler’s passion for the business is infectious, says John Jordan, Bojangles’ senior vice president and chief financial officer. Since the acquisition, Kibler has worked to modernize and upgrade the brand, including streamlining the menu to improve store-level execution, remodeling the restaurants’ decor and updating corporate technology as a means of improving communication systemwide.
“He’s very focused on having everyone come together as one,” Jordan says. “From the beginning he told us we were all going to be on the same page here, that we would go back to the basics of offering great chicken, iced tea and service. It’s all about providing a great experience, and we’re seeing big changes, big differences [as a result]. I think the consumer is seeing those big changes, too.”
Jordan points to this year’s figures as proof. He says 2008 was a record year in both revenues and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or EBITDA. Over the last seven quarters, EBITDA grew 14 percent and company stores reported same-store sales up 2.6 percent. This year, Jordan says, same-store sales at company-owned and franchised stores are flat, but he notes that revenues through July increased 7 percent.
“In meetings, Randy always tells everyone: ‘There may be a recession, but Bojangles’ refuses to participate,’” Jordan says.
Franchisees also are pleased with the changes, says Kenny Avery, vice president of operations, noting that Kibler’s past experience as a franchisee helps.
“He sees both sides of the ledger, what franchisees have to go through,” Avery says. “Any decision we make, we’ll have a full discussion first about how it would affect our franchisees, what they would have to go through.”
Kibler also has brought to Bojangles’ a new focus on technology, something Randy Poindexter, the company’s vice president of marketing, says was desperately needed.
“He really has embraced new technology; he’s a real leader in this area,” Poindexter says. “We’ve gotten new computer systems and software in the front- and back-of-the house, and expanded from just an internal support center so we can now communicate through a central e-mail center with all of our stores and franchisees. He has taught us all the importance of over-communicating.”
In the end though, Poindexter says, it is Kibler’s kindness and dedication that engages Bojangles’ employees and challenges them to want to improve on performance.
“He is one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “He’s very disciplined about how we run our restaurants, but he’s also very patient with everyone. He’s a great teacher, a perfect fit for Bojangles’. He is the type of leader all of us have gotten really excited about, a great motivator.”— [email protected]
TITLE: president and chief executiveCOMPANY: Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Charlotte, N.C.ANNUAL SYSTEMWIDE SALES: $608 millionPUBLICLY TRADED: NoNO. OF UNITS: 160 company owned, 290 franchisedCHECK AVERAGE: $5.30CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Starting with Hardee’s at age 15, spending 26 years with Spartan Foods; having the opportunity there to lead 600 restaurants as president during an explosive growth period; working directly with franchisees at Firehouse Subs; and being chosen for the Bojangles’ leadership roleHOMETOWN: Columbia, S.C.EDUCATION: University of South CarolinaPERSONAL: married; two daughters; five grandchildrenHOBBIES: tennis and racquetball