Moving Forward: Al Bhakta claims MVP for Mega-Growth Leadership
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Moving Forward: Al Bhakta claims MVP for Mega-Growth Leadership

Moving Forward: Al Bhakta claims MVP for Mega-Growth Leadership

Name: Al Bhakta
Title: Founding Principal
Company: CMG Companies
No. of units: 101 Sonic Drive-In, 22 Little Caesars, 143 KFC, 35 KFC/Taco Bell, 2 Taco Bells, 90 Rent-A-Center, 38 Ace Hardware
Age: 45
Family: Wife Val, son Sevan, 11
Years in franchising: 22
Years in current position: 22

Al Bhakta is the Mega-Growth Leadership MVP (Most Valuable Performer) for achieving excellence in growth and expansion.

Al Bhakta had the entrepreneurial itch from a young age, and his plans solidified in college. He and five friends from the University of Texas at Dallas were looking for a place for underage students to hang out, and they stumbled upon a business idea and a lifelong partnership. 

Bhakta credits the group’s bond to the fact that they were all working in college. “We all had jobs to help put us through school,” he recalls. The group saw a need in the marketplace based on their own search for an underage pool hall. “We wanted something to do without alcohol, a place to play pool and other games,” he says. “That was the idea at the time.” The group started their pool hall and operated it through college. They sold it after graduation and applied what they’d learned to their franchise restaurant business.

Bhakta has been in the restaurant industry for 22 years and has been on both the franchisor and franchisee sides. As founding principal for CMG Companies, he and his team operate more than 400 units in more than two dozen states. CMG’s holdings include KFC, Taco Bell, Sonic Drive-In, Little Caesars, Rent-A-Center, and Ace Hardware. He has previously franchised with hotel concepts, such as IHG, Marriott, and Hilton, and served as the chief executive officer of Genghis Grill from 2004 to 2014.

CMG has grown organically and through acquisitions for each of the brands they are involved in. Bhakta and his team tend to take underperforming units and turn them around, transforming them into locations the brand can take pride in. CMG plans to continue to grow and diversify into other brands. CMG Companies ranked No. 15 on this year’s Mega 99 list of largest franchisees in Multi-Unit Franchisee magazine. This issue’s edition the Multi-Brand 50 lists CMG at No. 12.

Today, five of the six original pool hall business operators still live around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In addition to working together, the partners spend time together and take vacations with their families. “Everyone gets along, and it’s been a good run,” Bhakta says.

MVP QUESTIONS

Why do you think you were recognized with this award? Thanks to the nominators for recognizing CMG for more than two decades in the franchise world.

How have you raised the bar in your own company? Try to lead by example always. Hopefully, my work ethic and persistence are things my partners and team members appreciate about me.

What innovations you have created and used to build your company? I wish I could tell you we have done something innovative. Slow and steady and compounding efforts have helped build our company.

What core values do you think helped you win this award? Our core values: One for all, all for one; respect … everything, everyone, always; work hard, play hard; check all egos at the door; what comes around goes around; karma is a _ _ _ _ _ !; and play to win—without offense, no fun, but defense wins championships.

How important is community involvement to you and your company? The restaurants and retail franchised units are all local businesses. We try to stay involved as much as we can in the local communities. CMG also has a nonprofit called Chalak Mitra Life that we use to contribute to various charitable causes.

What leadership qualities are most important to you and your company? Honesty, integrity, and a passion to learn and grow.

PERSONAL

Formative influences/events: Meeting my business partners in college and becoming best friends first and then building the foundations of CMG together ever since.

Next big goal: $100 million in EBITDA.

Best advice you ever got: Time is your most valuable asset. Don’t ever forget to value your time.

Favorite book: Anything nonfiction primarily focused on autobiographies. 

What’s your passion in business? Driving the culture, building teams, keeping energy high, and filling the boat (taking people with us)!

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: Outhustling and outworking everyone tends to deliver positive results compounded over time.

Management method or style: Fairly democratic: Gather information, share information, and vote on the big decisions. Try to give everyone a say in the major decisions.

Greatest challenge: Too many to name. The key is to get back up and keep fighting.

How close are you to operations?  I stay fairly connected with the leadership teams of the portfolios I oversee, and each of the partners does the same with the other portfolio companies.

How do you hire and fire, train and retain? Hire slow, fire fast. Training and retention will always be something that we work on perpetually. There are no silver bullets.

COVID-19

What have been the biggest impacts of Covid-19 on your business? Initially, in March 2020, it was scary having the responsibility of 7,000 team members on our shoulders. We just put our heads down and focused on overcoming the challenges that came along. Having self-belief that together we could get through it proved to be very effective, and most of our businesses came out stronger as a result. 

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: approximately $650 million.

2024 goals: Getting closer to $100 million in EBITDA and diversifying into other franchise brands.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? We tend to focus on EBITDA growth versus number of units as a measurement of growth.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? We tend to focus on shorter milestone periods as business changes fast. We like to do annual operating plans and set annual goals every year, ensuring we are adjusting to real-time ebbs and flows. Our CMG overall vision is “One Team. Big Dreams!” 

What are you doing to take care of your employees? Our leaders either have equity or profit sharing in our businesses. This has been the biggest reason for our overall success. 

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? We tend to go into the various franchise businesses with legacy in mind. We like the long-term nature of the franchise portfolios we own.

Published: May 17th, 2024

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