Jennifer Jackson: “Be an example and inspire”

Be an example and inspire. Being a leader has nothing to do with how big your actions are, but ultimately how you implement those actions. Young people working their first jobs need managing and motivating. At this stage, they are impressionable and can look to you as the leading example on how to conduct business […]

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Be an example and inspire. Being a leader has nothing to do with how big your actions are, but ultimately how you implement those actions. Young people working their first jobs need managing and motivating. At this stage, they are impressionable and can look to you as the leading example on how to conduct business and present yourself in the world, especially for future female leaders.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Jackson.

Jennifer Jackson has been involved with Hungry Howie’s Pizza since age 10 and officially started as a Hungry Howie’s employee in 1998 as Fundraising Coordinator. In 2000, she was promoted to Director of Marketing and in 2005, Jennifer was named Director of Marketing & Franchise Development. After taking a brief hiatus to work in various other marketing and franchise positions, Jennifer returned to Hungry Howie’s in 2012 as Director of Franchise Development, restructuring the department and qualification process.

Today, she’s a female franchise leader. Jennifer is the Vice President of Development and has helped the company open nearly 550 locations in 21 states! The concept has emerged as a major player within the pizza marketplace, consistently ranking in the top 10 of the nation’s largest pizza franchises.

Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was a little girl growing up, my dad would leave every afternoon to go to work as soon as I got home from school. I would ask him every day if I could go with him and one day, he looked at me and said when you’re 10. I was 6 years old. My 10th birthday was in August and I got up, got dressed and ran downstairs to go to work. I’ll never forget working at store #2 that day. That began my career path and journey.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I love to share the story in 1995 when our leadership team me with my dad and said we needed to invest 1500 dollars in a website and his response was no. We laugh about that still today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I will never forget working in a store on New Year’s Eve when I was about 15. Shortly after midnight I answered the phone to a customer who didn’t know the name of the meat pepperoni. Had no idea I was being phone pranked by my own father! The lesson I took away from that night was learning the customer is always right. No matter what. No arguing, no trying to explain, make the customer happy at all costs.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom. She has always been straight with me, even when I didn’t want to hear it. She has been the strength of my foundation and as I reflect my life until now, realize I am who I am because she loved me and was my mom.

As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Mental preparation is something I’ve learned most recently. I clear my mind, calm my mind, and ensure that I’m living in the present moment. I take a breath, say a prayer to control my tongue and do my best to listen. It’s hard not to get emotional, but my end goal is to resolve issues and problems, with effective communication.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It needs to be more than just the executive team — it is important for businesses and organizations to have a diverse staff throughout the entire company. Within the pizza business, this includes the team of delivery drivers and pizza makers to franchisee owners and the leadership team. Delivery drivers, cashiers, and pizza makers are at the storefront connecting with our customers directly — they are the face of our brand. Diversity and inclusion at the stores make it easier for customers and employees to feel accepted and valued. In the franchising business, diversity can help different people relate to the brand which mean opening doors to new markets, customers and business partners. At headquarters, a diverse workplace present different characteristics and backgrounds, which means there is more likely a variety of different skills and experiences that can be highly beneficial when it comes to planning and executing a business strategy. Overall, staff diversity can take the company culture and business growth to a whole new level.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

The first step begins with you, how you position yourself in today’s environment including where you work and the people you surround yourself with. It is important to understand who you are as a person, what your company represents, and the people you spend most of your day with. Once established, this is the beginning of creating your own social group and community that’s inclusive, representative, and equitable. As you continue to through life, you will influence others, educate those who are misinformed, and associate with like-minded people and eventually, there will be a ripple effect for others to do the same. After all, Rome wasn’t built within a day, and you have to start somewhere.

A few years ago, we hired a business leadership teach coach and at our meeting we identified the core values of the brand and what the core focus is. We stand by these core values to this day as they have become the company’s culture — Treat everyone like family. Have integrity. Do what you say. Be hungry for growth. Have positive energy. We literally hold a standard to the people we work with to have these five core values. Our teams meet with all the different departments and they evaluate all their people and really with that goal.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Although my leadership roles requires me to vet and discourage potential candidates, it’s my responsibility to be sure all incoming franchisees are a good fit and know exactly what to expect. Once they’ve joined our Hungry Howie’s family, it’s my duty to lead and help grow the brand in new and existing markets.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

That executives are generalists. Most all of us are specialists in one field or part of the business. That doesn’t mean we can’t offer other perspectives on how we see things in other areas. My background and training is marketing, however I transitioned to sales. Through hands on experience I have gained general knowledge in other areas, but I still have strength in my core.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women have many hurdles to overcome but one of the biggest challenges I personally faced was keeping the work/life balance as a mom. It’s even harder when juggling work and family as a single mother. I am always working, but I make sure to make a lot of time for my daughter and let her know I am always there for her. But partially what makes it difficult to maintain a work/life balance is that I do not see what I do as a job because I am so passionate about it, it’s fun- and I always make time for fun! Sometimes my role blur where I become an executive mom, and my daughters tell me that they need mom, not “Jennifer Jackson”.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be? Need some help here, maybe that I work 24 hours/day verses only 9–5? Any other thoughts?

Since I grew up in the pizza industry, I have a good understanding of my role and there was no striking difference to my expectations. But in addition to my title as VP of Development, I also have a second job — being a mom. I found the lessons I’ve learned as mother was similar to my corporate duties. At home, moms are the leaders of their family. It’s a 24/7 job. They have to multi-task, handle the housework, oversee the house operations, manage the family’s schedule, and guide their children to become the best person they can be. Similar to my corporate position, I have to multi-task and work with several teams, I oversee the franchise department, manage meetings, and guide my team to success. You would think it’s a 9-to-5, but it’s also a 24/7 job. When you love what you do, you want to do everything you can to help contribute to the growth and success of the company. That said, I have the best two jobs in the world!

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe everyone can become an executive through hard work, career progression and relevant experience. But what differentiates c-level team members is their leadership skill. It takes time and dedication and not everyone is able to acquire this trait. It’s a valuable skill to have in a position of power within a company. A leader sets direction, build teams, inspire vision, find efficiencies, apply business savvy and cultivate relationships. They lead others to serve on the executive level.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be an example and inspire. Being a leader has nothing to do with how big your actions are, but ultimately how you implement those actions. Young people working their first jobs need managing and motivating. At this stage, they are impressionable and can look to you as the leading example on how to conduct business and present yourself in the world, especially for future female leaders.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As I mentioned earlier, change starts with you and your environment. I’m grateful to work for a company that embodies the values I represent. In my leadership position as Vice President of Development, I have the power to build a team that embodies those values. At Hungry Howie’s, local community involvement is a big part of our business model. With every franchise opening, the owner donates a certain percentage of sales from the opening to a local school or charity. During these difficult times, Hungry Howie’s has also been assisting front line workers and first responders in our local communities. Today, Hungry Howie’s has over 550 stores across 20 states. We’re making the world a better place, one pizza at a time.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

You have to be passionate about the product. When a potential candidate calls about franchising with us, I always challenge and question them. Not only to make sure they’re a good fit for the company but that Hungry Howie’s is the right franchise for them as well.

Life experience is full of character builders and I believe it starts at a young age. I was started out working at the store level and understanding the operations side of our business helped me become the leader I am today. Because I know what our franchisees are going through, I have the ability to assist them and help them overcome issues they may encounter

Take a step back and revaluate. I took the opportunity to step away from Hungry Howie’s for a few years and work for other companies in different positions. For me, this was an eye opening experience to realize that Hungry Howie’s was my true passion. When you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it gets old very fast. I truly love what I do and having the opportunity to come back makes me appreciate it even more.

Do your due diligence and make sure you know exactly what you are getting into. Whether you’re looking into franchising or other opportunities, gather all the facts and make sure you’re making a well-informed decision on the product or business you’ll be investing your time into. Be passionate about what you’re working on.

Be adaptable. I’ve seen way too many people want to change the world to how they see it. It’s best to see if your own way, accept other views, and don’t try to change them. Expand who you are.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Christianity and walking with Jesus. In this day and age I pray that good will overcome evil. I believe that it will, but the more individuals that start believing in a higher power over their narcissistic selves would be world changing,

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. I’ve always been the one with the answers to the questions and wanted to prove to everyone that I was right. Now I sit back and listen. There are people in this world that must be right, just let them. I see the person that I was, and I changed.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Christian Louboutin. I have loved shoes since I was a little girl and became a fan of his brand at a young age. His story and shoe designs are appreciated by me like art, and I would love to hear his story from him.

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