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National Restaurant Association - Getting to know NRA chair Jack Crawford

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Getting to know NRA chair Jack Crawford

Jack Crawford discusses his role as Ground Round’s CEO and the National Restaurant Association’s new chairman of the board.

How did you get involved in restaurants?

I graduated from college in the early ’80s with a management degree. My brother suggested I look at a company called Ground Round, a growing restaurant chain. Back then, I wasn’t sure what kind of career I wanted, and he told me to look at the restaurant business. I ended up going into restaurant management. I didn’t know that 33 years later I’d still be affiliated with Ground Round, and as its CEO!

Ground Round has had some tough times, hasn’t it?

It was owned by the Howard Johnson Co. for 16 years and, as a public company, grew rapidly during the 1980s. But during the late 1990s another company acquired it and took it private. It took on a great deal of debt and that led to a bankruptcy in 2004. For a time, it looked like Ground Round was done. The company-owned stores were closed and there was no support for the franchisees. So the franchisees stepped up, organized and sought a good suitor to buy the company. But In the end, the franchisees bought it themselves and formed a unique structure where each one also owned a share in the overall company.

How did you become CEO?

I’d been with the company since 1981. I was a senior leader, head of franchising, and a franchisee myself. As a corporate leader and franchisee, I could relate to both sides of the equation. I was the logical choice to help pull the group together. My role happened because I’m a consensus builder. Folks have found me to be a calming influence, someone who can bring people together and get them to set their emotions aside.

What makes a good CEO?

I believe you can be firm, but also fair and nice. Some people think you can’t be all three. They think you need to be tough to be a good leader, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory. If you are approachable and considerate of the people who work for you, they’ll work harder. If you can influence others to come together and put their differences aside for a common cause, that’s really the definition of good leadership. You need to be the go-to person who’s going to help folks come together and move forward.

As an industry veteran, what keeps you up at night?

We’re not attracting as many people as we need to keep growing. We have to get out there and tell our story. If you think about this business, it grows in good times and bad. But we need everyone to hear that so they have a better understanding of who we are and what we do. Restaurants are not a dead-end, stop-gap job provider. We offer great careers and growth opportunities.

You’ve said being a restaurant leader has made you a better family man. How so?
One of the things I love about our business is that a lot of the leadership practices apply to family life. The core values that work so well in our business work well at home. Some things I’ve learned in restaurants, like being a good listener and leading by example, have made me a better family member and parent.

If you were to have your last meal, what and where would it be?

I like Mexican food, and I like sitting at the bar when I go out to eat. My wife and I like talking to people, and you can usually avoid the wait when you go right to the bar. There’s a lot going on: You can eat your meal and watch sports on the TV, and conversations are going on around you. You can talk to the bartender. I like the feeling of not being tucked away at a table.

As NRA chairman, where do you hope to play the biggest role?

I want to build engagement in our advocacy program. I’m planning to speak to different groups and use my influence and encouragement to get more people engaged with the NRA.

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