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10 Things I Learned About Leadership Flipping Hamburgers


I grew up flipping hamburgers at Webers Charcoal Broiled Hamburgers on Highway 11 north of Orillia, Ontario and I loved it.

Flipping hamburgers is a term I still proudly use today. People use the term “flipping hamburgers” in a disparaging way. I have never understood why. In fact, it is the absolute opposite in my books as it’s a wonderful job. I would wholeheartedly encourage every young person to give it a try.

I have been fortunate and grateful for what the restaurant business has provided me and my family over the years. I eventually went on to work in senior executive roles in the industry across Canada. My last, most challenging and rewarding role was heading up the team for Wendy’s Restaurants of Canada.

Dave Thomas (Dave) and Paul Weber Sr. (Web) would have enjoyed each others company if they had ever had the chance to meet. Here are the things I learned from them that apply to any business or any person in a leadership role today:

1.  Invoking a spirit of generosity

 Mr. Weber was the most generous person I have ever met and not just financially. He was generous in praise, cheerleading and thanking us for our hard work. He was generous with his time and was an excellent listener. Web also paid us well above market rates and was always surprising us with unique gifts or a cold beer and a hot pizza after work. He believed in paying top dollar for talent and for quality product. He was always looking for “the best” in everything he did.

Dave Thomas always reminded us to Give Something Back. It was one of his core legacy values and the team took this seriously. He was a tireless advocate for adoption though his Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.  As a result, a spirit of generosity was infused into the entire organization.

 2.  The power of Thank You

Web was the king of thank you notes. He never missed an opportunity to express his appreciation for our hard work; often a hand-written note was attached to our pay envelope. He closed the restaurant for a day of the summer in August (very busy day that he forfeited the sales for) and always threw us a first-class staff thank you party at a high-end resort. It was classy and tons of fun.

When Dave toured Wendy’s restaurants the staff would understandably be a bit star struck. He would walk right into the heart of the kitchen. bypassing the executives hosting the tour, going straight to the crew in the “back of the house” to thank them for all their hard work

3.  Quality wins every time

Wendy’s restaurants motto is “Quality is Our Recipe”. Dave always replied, “We Don’t cut Corners” when asked why the hamburgers were square. Web was fanatical about quality. He used to go into National Grocers in Orillia in the early years and pick through all the tomatoes to ensure he got the best ones. It is not surprising that both Dave and Web insisted on using fresh, never frozen, high-quality beef in their respective restaurants.

4.  The Importance of hard work and fun

Web let us blast the rock music as loud as we liked as we served hundreds of hamburgers per hour. And no one ever told us to “go out and have fun and entertain the guests”. It was quite the opposite. We took liberties having fun and joking with customers occasionally making Web pull his hair out, but they loved it and kept coming back.

 5.  The power of perseverance

Dave and Web had unwavering drive and commitment and persevered through many significant challenges before they experienced success. They never quit. In 1963 after his first year in business, Web told his wife that he had “made a dreadful mistake” in opening the restaurant. It took ten years before it turned a profit and even then, he invested it all back into improving the business.

Dave persevered through many personal challenges in his early years. Prior to opening his first Wendy’s, he was given the task of turning around the sales of four Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants for the franchisee. He worked 14 hours a day and eventually turned the business around.

6.  Good people attract good people

“Treat People with Respect” and “Just Be Nice” were two of Dave Thomas’s legacy values that the organization embraced. If Weber’s had a great employee they would hire their brothers, sisters and best friends.

Web was one of the most honest and humblest man you would ever meet. Dave Thomas was exactly the same way. They didn’t take themselves too seriously despite their success. People were naturally drawn to them and never wanted to disappoint.

7.   It’s all about the customer

Weber’s 35th anniversary celebrated with a slogan “35 Years of Service” that Mr. Weber didn’t like. He felt it was about the guest, not 35 years of serving and that we had it backwards. While Dave, in his classic way, said that it wasn’t “brain science” or “rocket surgery”; you take care of your customers and the business will take care of you

8.  Treat people well

Recognition is powerful. Web was always looking for ways to recognize us and build our self-esteem. He made us all feel we were special and a major contributor to the team.Weber’s culture was so strong the senior guys took care of issues before the management ever knew anything about them. They taught us how to act and treat customers. We ferociously protected and preserved the Weber culture.

When the business was eventually sold, I wrote a letter to the new owner who I didn’t know and indicated what the “untouchables” were for the business he had just purchased. He said I wasn’t the only one who did that.

 9.  Be proud of every aspect of your business… even the trucks

The place has to shine. Mop Bucket Attitude was what Dave Thomas like to call it (his version of an MBA). Clean washrooms represent how much care the owner takes in their business. We checked and cleaned them every 20 mins throughout the day. Mr. Weber would put flowers in the women’s washroom daily.

Web always liked to check out the delivery trucks when they pulled in to be sure they were clean and represented his suppliers well. Dave and Web understood the power of paying attention to the details and continually reminded us of how important they were.

 10.  Be good to your suppliers and partners

 Profit Means Growth as Dave reminded us. Many of Dave’s original suppliers who helped him grow in the early years are still supplying the organization and are extremely loyal. Dave was a believer of “pay the bills on time”. Mr. Weber’s suppliers were very loyal to him as well. They made sure they provided the absolute best product and service as they knew how high his standards were. He paid their invoices weekly which was unheard of then and now.

I feel fortunate to have met and worked with these inspiring leaders who helped shape my career in a major way. As Dave pointed out in his book entitled Dave’s Way; “you should always make the hamburger you’d be proud to serve to your best friend”.

Those who have flipped hamburgers at some point in their career, know of the many valuable lessons one learns and the great people you meet working in these fast-paced environments.

I am lucky to call myself a Hamburger Flipper; it’s some of the best leadership and business lessons I could have ever learned.