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Published on: September 8, 2022

Adam: So how did you get here? What experiences failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth? 

Charles: When I was about 11 or 12, I would stand on a bus tub in my dad’s restaurant to reach the water hose and wash dishes. My dad described the dishwasher as the race car, which was supposed to make it more attractive to me as a kid, and it worked! From there, throughout high school and college, I would hang out in the restaurant with my dad and work every job in sight, from waiting tables to bartending. In my first six years in the restaurant business, no job was beneath me.  

Adam: In your experience, what are the key steps to growing and scaling your business? 

Charles: Relationships. One of our core values is “relationships rule.” We’re in the franchise business, which in effect is the people business. It’s the relationships between our franchisees and our guests as well as our relationship between the franchisor support center and our franchisees. We view the value-creation chain as such: franchisor serves franchisee, the franchisee serves the employee and in turn, the employee serves guests, and that is at the center of everything we do. 

With this in mind, nothing can be accomplished without a solid and trusting relationship. The reason that Tropical Smoothie Cafe has had a lot of success is because we work really hard to stay aligned with our franchisees. As we continue to scale and grow the business, we’ve utilized various committees where franchisee and franchisor can get together and work on the issues the business is facing in order to stay aligned and move forward. Truthfully, franchisees and franchisors don’t always agree — But we will always discuss and work together to find a solution that is best for the brand.   

Adam: What do you believe, are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Charles: The number one quality I look for is a great work ethic. From my perspective, a leader has to be the hardest worker in the organization, willing to do anything, anytime, anywhere for the betterment of the business. 

I also believe an effective leader has to have empathy. Understanding what people are going through, whether they are franchisees or members of our support center team. Everything points back to authentic, trusting relationships.

At the end of the day, you have to have vision and drive. It’s your job to know where the brand or the business can go, not where it is today. You then must have the drive to make it happen. Leadership is about having the vision and influencing all the talented people in the company to help bring the vision to life. 

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level? 

Charles: I always advise others to connect with people who have more experience. Throughout my career, I have focused on continually learning from those around me. I never claim to know it all, and I work really hard to talk with, and pick the brains of, other leaders either in my industry, or other relevant industries. It allows me to understand where they’ve had success, and how I might be able to apply those learnings in my own leadership.  

Reading is also a big part of how I’ve developed, and continue to develop my leadership style. I truly believe that there’s very little new in the world, but it’s how you repackage and interpret information and ideas that you want to bring into your own leadership style. Those are big factors in of how you continue growing as a leader.  

If you’re not growing, you’re standing still. Reading and talking with others who walked down that road already has been incredibly important to my continued leadership growth, and I learn more every day. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives, and civic leaders?


  1. Passion. If you can’t get out of bed every morning and be passionate about what you do, then you’re doing the wrong thing. Always check your “passion meter” on whatever it is you are doing. 
  2. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and people who you respect.  
  3. Be humble. You may have a title or a leadership position, but leadership is earned. It doesn’t come from a title. You’ve got to make the time to ensure that you’re respected by those in your organization. And that happens over time; it happens with actions, not words. 

Adam: What is your best advice on building leading and managing teams? 

Charles: Be yourself. Being authentic and your true self will allow you to show your strengths and your weaknesses. I believe that authenticity and transparency are incredibly important now more than ever in terms of leading people. If team members don’t know you as a person and believe in you as a person, it’s harder to gain trust and respect. Being vulnerable and asking for help does not knock down your leadership quotient, but rather increases your relatability and earns the respect of others. 

Adam: What are your best tips on the topics of sales, marketing and branding? 

Charles: In terms of sales, it is all about knowing that you as the leader are the head salesman. At the end of the day, everybody sells. Even though it may not be your direct responsibility to sell, never forget your overall goal of growing the company. Looking at that from a wider lens will be a benefit in the end. 

It is also very important to hire the right people. The outward-facing people in an organization are the salespeople. They’re the people that represent the brand or the company out in the public market, so be sure to choose those individuals wisely. Ensure that you have people that are well aligned with brand culture since oftentimes, those are the only representatives that people out in the marketplace will meet. 

For marketing and branding, it is important to understand the true awareness of your brand in the marketplace. Do people know who you are? If they do not know who you are, how do you want to address and change that? You have to understand your brand awareness, and then understand how you’re going to move the needle to increase that awareness. Ultimately, if people aren’t aware of a brand, it’s really hard to increase engagement, transactions and loyalty. You have to attract guests first, and then do all the right things to make them want to come back time and time again.  

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received? 

Charles: Cheryl Bachelder, the former CEO of Popeyes, said that the role of a CEO is to focus on three things: talent, culture, and strategy. 

Recently in my career, this advice has been incredibly relevant. For strategy, always following my vision of where the business is going and looking ahead is vital. Creating a close-knit brand culture and ensuring team members feel valued as an integral part of growth and company success also remains important, especially in uncertain times.

Article Source: Adam Mendler

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