QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott
Valerie Daniels-Carter started her career in quick-service with one Burger King unit in 1984. Twenty-two years later, she has parlayed that store and lessons learned from a previous life as a bank executive into V&J Holdings, a Milwaukee-based holding company with assets that include 36 Burger King and 70 Pizza Hut stores, in addition to a real estate and investment arm. Combined, her two quick-service brands brought in $85 million in sales last year for subsidiary V&J Foods.
As a veteran franchisee and one of the industry’s most successful operators, V&J Holdings CEO and President Carter is able to offer a unique perspective on quick-service and where the segment’s future might lie.
I was in banking and finance. I worked for First Wisconsin National Bank, now U.S. Bank. I’ve had an entrepreneurial-type spirit ever since I was a child. I had the opportunity to look into a program that in 1982 was considered to be somewhat cutting edge.
There was a lack of diversity within the Burger King system. And Burger King created a program to attract minority owners.
The initiative was publicized through the black media. It was in Black Enterprise and, I believe, Ebony. I contacted Burger King in concert with Operation PUSH, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. They had an initiative called The Covenant. The goal was to try to bring parity within the fast-food industry based on demographics and populations and consumer consumption. This covenant was specifically with Burger King. And because Burger King had such a high penetration of African-Americans as consumers, it really was a win-win for both the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Burger King Corporation.
I became a Pizza Hut franchisee in 1997. They were divesting some of their company markets, and they were looking for operators who had the capacity to operate larger fields. They approached us. We looked at the Upstate New York market and agreed to join with them. At the time, we picked up 61 units.
I’ve found that it is not just about the pool of qualified applicants; it’s what the qualified applications are looking for from an employer. It is a mutual, kind of reciprocal, relationship. We have a responsibility to the employee, and the employee has a responsibility to the organization.
It really has a lot to do with how you’re treated. You don’t win 100 percent, but my basic philosophy is if you treat individuals the way you want to be treated—with the same level of respect and the same level of professionalism—they’ll, in turn, sell the company for us. Many who come to our company come by referral from individuals currently working for the company.
We’ve experienced labor shortages like everyone else but not to the degree that others have. I think that has a lot to with the relationship we have with employees.
We expected at some point there would be an initial public offering, so it did not come as a surprise for us. We view the IPO from this perspective: To the degree that it can enhance and build the value of the organization and have a positive impact within the communities that V&J serves, we support it.
There will clearly be some changes to the structure of Burger King as we know it today. Hopefully, it will be for the betterment of the organization.
Anytime a company goes from being privately held to publicly held there are changes in reporting. There will be certain administrative mandates that currently don’t exist placed on the organization. To the degree of what all of those changes will be we haven’t defined, and we don’t know. But we know there will be some.
As long as you have differing of opinions, you are going to have, at some point in a relationship, individuals who don’t see things eye to eye. Burger King is a resilient brand. The fact it’s had 11 CEOs in the last 15 years, or something like that…The statistics are not in their favor as they relate to stable management. But the brand has been able to survive. The brand has been able to remain a successful fast-food giant in America and worldwide. That speaks volumes.
You’re always going to have individuals who have points of view. Sometimes they match, and sometimes they don’t. What happened last year was that there were individuals who had differences of opinion. They can work through those issues. They’ve done it historically, and I think they’ll be able to do it moving forward.