Donatos founder talks hiring, transparency, work-life balance

At age 13, Jim Grote began working at a local pizzeria, where most of his days were spent slicing pepperoni by hand with a paring knife and making pizzas. Two years later he was managing the place, and the owner actually tried to sell him the business when he was just 16.

Back then, Grote had two bosses who made lasting impressions on him. They were polar opposites.

One made pizzas the same way time after time, Grote says. He put all the cash in the register and treated the kids working at the pizzeria with respect and dignity.

The other boss would raid the register before stopping at a nearby neighborhood tavern, he says. He’d tell off-color jokes to the employees, and it was obvious he neither respected nor trusted them. He also wasn’t averse to watering down the pizza sauce and skimping on toppings to save a few cents.

Grote says he quickly determined that business was much better on the nights the “good” manager worked.

During that time he also decided the pizza business was about much more than making pizzas. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to influence young people about how to succeed in the workplace.

He contends that developing quality people is as important as delivering quality pizza− a philosophy that is integral to the business he began building in Columbus back in 1963.

You might be familiar with it. It’s called Donatos.

To learn what Grote would do differently were he to start Donatos today, what to keep in mind when hiring employees, and why it’s important to be a risk-taker, keep reading.

The Metropreneur: In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of being a business owner?

Jim Grote: The most rewarding aspect is the ability to bring your personal principles to work with you and being able to apply them in a business environment. It’s great when you are prosperous and profitable while adhering to the same principles that guide your personal life.

[M]: If you could go back and start the business all over again, what would you do differently?

JG: I would balance my work life and personal life better. I used to work over 100 hours per week because I was convinced that I had to be at work for things to run properly. Now I would trust the right people to run the business for me.

[M]: When hiring employees, what do you think business owners should keep in mind?

JG: First is to hire people of character. You really can’t teach character to someone; they either have it or they don’t.

Secondly, you need to hire people that can develop relationships, people that have the ability to relate to and work with their co-workers, their business partners, and their customers.

Lastly, when hiring someone, they obviously have to possess the appropriate skill set to do the needed work− that’s the most obvious of the three.

Thus, the best people are a blend of those three elements.

[M]: How do you reward excellence in the workplace? And how do you handle poor performance?

JG: In our Goodwill-oriented culture, we have a comprehensive performance management process that is solidly based on the four cornerstones of our business: sales, operations, people, and profit. This process provides us with a complete picture of how our associates are performing, and holds them accountable to the goals that we mutually set.

For those associates that excel, they are compensated accordingly− bonus . For those that are not performing up to their capabilities, the process then switches into a coaching mode so that we can quickly correct and move the associate back on course as quickly as possible.

[M]: What quality do you think is necessary to be an effective leader?

JG: A number of aspects define an effective leader.

First, you must be able to build relationships with people. You simply have to be able to relate to and work with everyone involved with your business.

Next, I believe that an effective leader needs to be transparent− and that goes for both their personal life as well as their business life. Simply put, you need to be who you are, wherever you are.

An effective leader also needs to not only be trustworthy, but they also have to be trusting. And they obviously have to be fair and honest.

[M]: To whom or what do you attribute your success?

JG: I really owe a lot to both my parents as well as some of my early teachers for instilling in me the values that have always guided me. Simple human values like doing the right thing and treating others the way that you would like to be treated. Nothing too philosophical, just good solid principles that apply to all situations.

I also learned some other great lessons from my father-in-law. He taught me to go after the things that I wanted and not be averse to taking a risk. Lots of times when I was younger, I had the tendency to focus on the reasons why things wouldn’t work and then I would talk myself into not doing something as opposed to concentrating on the positives and making things happen.

That was a great piece of advice. He taught me that if there was something that I really wanted to accomplish, go after it! Don’t convince yourself of the reasons that something can’t be done. Concentrate on the reasons why it can be done.  He also taught me the importance of not waiting. Do it now!

[M]: How do you start your day?

JG: I do my best reading in the morning, so I try to read at least 45 minutes to an hour every morning. Then I work out for 45 minutes to an hour at least 6 days a week. And then I get on with my day!

[M]: Is there anything else that you think we should know?

JG: I think that it’s extremely important that you determine your mission and then pursue it with all that you have. Our mission at Donatos is to “promote goodwill through product and service, principles and people.” That’s a direct reflection of the golden rule that we talked about before. That being to treat others in the way that you would like to be treated.

Promoting goodwill sounds like a pretty esoteric mission, but, in reality, it can be broken down into a number of components that we practice every day.

Promoting goodwill to our customers means providing them the very best products served by associates who truly care about them. It means delivering our guests their food at the time we promise and for a fair price. It also means being an asset and a positive influence to every neighborhood that we do business in.

We promote goodwill to our own associates by providing a fair, fun and caring atmosphere that promotes their growth and development.

Nothing too complicated, just simple human values.