Management Insight: Rachel Wallace on Culture and a Family Business
Rachel Wallace’s parents bought their first Subway when she was just 14. That means she grew up hearing talk of business at home and learned what you do when you own a business—like walk away from your Christmas celebrations because your employees working that day are overwhelmed with customers.
She went on to college and started a career in accounting before returning to the family business when her parents retired in 2012. She took over the company and doubled the number of Subway businesses in Southern Illinois. Today, she oversees 25 Subways, 3 Scooter’s Coffee locations, and 1 Best Western Plus.
She says she decided early on that her version of corporate culture would be more personal, especially with her upper-management team. “To produce a culture that people want to be with,” she says. Because of the company’s growth, she knows she must delegate and put faith in her employees. “I can’t do without them. I have wonderful people who do an amazing job.”
Here’s what Wallace told us about her management style and philosophy:
Business philosophy: Make It Happen.
Management method or style: I am very democratic in my leadership style. I take a lot of information from each of my key team members, and often we make decisions together based on what everyone feels is the best choice. There are times I will be the final say if necessary. I rely on the people in the field to give me the information necessary to make decisions.
Greatest challenge: Too many opinions sometimes. With so many stores, there can be an endless number of options of how to answer one question. Often, each answer will work.
How do others describe you? Opinionated. Not afraid to speak. Quick-witted.
One thing I’m looking to do better: When you work as the leader, you become used to speaking up anytime you want to. When I get into meetings with other franchisees or other leaders, I have been working to keep myself quieter and to be less emotional about certain subjects that can sometimes cause me to be more aggressive with my opinions.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: I am not the creative one in my bunch. If my team comes up with an idea they are willing to try, such as a sales contest, I’m very happy to support them in finding a way to reward the winners. If they can give me a spelled-out plan that is fair and measurable and inspire others to put in the work I am happy to give them the budget needed to reward participants.
How close are you to operations? I have a director of operations at of each of the QSR chains, and I have a general manger at the hotel. I also have a director of business and employee development in Subway and for the hotel who is also my partner-franchisee in Scooter’s Coffee. Then there are two regional managers and six district managers and a store manager at each Subway. I have monthly meetings with the district managers and above. I am involved in all promotions and pay raises. I also monitor each store’s progress.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Communication and assistance. One of the number-one things I need from my franchisor is to know who to contact when I have an issue. Scooter’s is amazing at this. They excel at franchisee support in almost every area. Communication from the franchisor is also of utmost importance.
What I need from vendors: Loyalty. A vendor that can stick with me through the issues that arise with products is one that can earn my business. If they can admit a fault and fix it quickly instead of making excuses and dragging out an issue, they can earn my trust.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? Because my businesses are franchises, my marketing is controlled at the corporate level for the most part.
How is social media affecting your business? Social media is a double-edged sword for sure. As quick as it is to alert customers to your great news, it’s just as quick to alert them to something that may be just a rumor a disgruntled employee is spreading. It can be your best friend your worst enemy.
How do you hire and fire? I don’t currently do much of the hiring, and I’m only involved in the firing process if it’s a major deal.
How do you train and retain? I find that it’s important to ensure that you are giving plenty of feedback to new employees or to employees who are in a new position. We have job descriptions of each of the levels that are in the company. We give 3-month, 6-month, and annual reviews to new management trainees.
How do you deal with problem employees? The best thing you can do in this situation is to speak with them directly. In this day and age, so many managers will try to do this by text or email. As uncomfortable as it may be to sit down and speak with a person face to face these days, it is still the best form of communication.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Lie to me. This is one of my big three rules. If you screwed something up, come and tell me and we will work through it.
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