For Don Fox, the Affordable Care Act was a call to action. “Health care was my main catalyst into advocacy,” the CEO of Firehouse Subs says. “I felt I had an obligation to dig into it and personally understand it a lot better.”
As a Key Advocate for the National Restaurant Association, Fox writes op-eds, participates in media interviews and lobbies Congress on health care, immigration and tax reform. He also is involved in the Restaurant Advocacy Fund and Restaurant PAC.
Q: Why was it important to deepen your understanding of the health care law?
A: After the June 2012 Supreme Court ruling that upheld most of the law, I knew at some point I would be standing in front of hundreds of franchisees, explaining what it meant to our business. I felt it was better to immerse myself in the law, rather than delegate it to others. No other outside-imposed issue rivals the Affordable Care Act in that it could detract two to five points from their bottom line. If that doesn’t deserve my full attention as CEO, I don’t know what does.
Q: Your approach to advocacy seems more pragmatic than adversarial. How will that help the industry?
A: Early on, I tried to look at it from a positive standpoint. The reality is that the law passed; the time for debate is over, and our focus should be on compliance. Operators should look at it long term. We don’t want to reinforce old clichés about the restaurant industry by taking steps to avoid the law – that would undermine the positive image we’ve built over the years.
Q: What would you say to operators who say they’ll have to reduce the number of employees or part-time hours because of the law?
A: Flashback to 2006, before the economic recession. We wouldn’t have had the luxury to do that. We all want the economy to grow, and when it comes back, we will find ourselves once again in a labor crunch. Having all part time employees will not be a long term viable strategy.
Q: If you’re competing against other restaurants to attract the best talent, why do you believe in sharing your insight?
A: This is a fundamental part of advocacy; there’s a bigger purpose. Sharing strengthens us as an industry, and that is a fairly unique strength for us. We can come together with a common interest, and we can galvanize around that. If we grow the restaurant industry overall, we all benefit.
Q: What are other ways restaurants can galvanize around a common cause?
A: I’m very passionate these days about the Restaurant Advocacy Fund and Restaurant PAC. We should be embarrassed and challenged that we raise an average of less than $1 per restaurant per year for PAC, as an example, and about the same for RAF. By most standards, we’re very respected and effective. But think about what that could be – is it worth $5 per restaurant? Ten dollars per restaurant? You bet it is.
Q: What are some successes you can attribute to the NRA’s advocacy work?
A: One of the most important successes was securing a one-year transition relief period for the health care law.'s employer mandate and large-employer reporting requirement. That is a direct result of the involvement of the NRA, Restaurant Advocacy Fund and so many of those relationships. It will save every operator untold thousands for every dollar of restaurant investment in the Restaurant Advocacy Fund.
Q: Why should other restaurant leaders get involved in advocacy work?
A: As an executive, when you enjoy a certain level of success, you have the luxury to turn your attention to other things. Those who are capable should get involved, but not everyone can do that. Instead, for those that do not have the luxury of time, I encourage them to devote their financial resources.
Q: What are some first steps to getting involved?
A: If there is an issue you really feel strongly about, try making a difference in that one area. If you get involved in that issue, you will develop the confidence to speak about it. Eventually, you will become even more passionate on any number of issues.
Q: What makes advocacy work more successful?
A: While every restaurateur has a political affiliation, leave that at the door. In the end, you’re advocating for issues, not candidates.
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