Tips From The Top: One On One With Andy Wiederhorn

I spoke to Andy Wiederhorn, CEO of FAT Brands, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people

Andy: I think one thing that would surprise people is that I am an Eagle Scout. I lost my father at a young age and becoming an Eagle Scout provided me with a strong support system. Likewise, it armed me with leadership skills such as stepping up, encouraging others and being decisive.  These skills have shaped me in terms of the leader I am today. 

The positive influence that scouting had on me in my younger years made it a no-brainer to introduce my sons to the program. I was actively involved throughout the years with them, going on trips and encouraging them as they each moved up the ranks to that of Eagle Scout.

Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Andy: I have had my fair share of setbacks and challenges over the years. I haven’t always been in the restaurant space. I previously founded and served as the Chairman of the board of directors and CEO of Wilshire Financial Services Group and Wilshire Credit Corporation. Unfortunately, I was faced with some legal issues which were unwarranted, but due to it being the post-Enron era it was in my best interest to settle. That however tarnished my reputation to a certain degree, and I decided to make the transition to the restaurant space, purchasing Fatburger in 2003. 

Fast forward 17 years and now I have a public, global franchising company, FAT Brands, made up of nine portfolio companies, including the recently acquired Johnny Rockets. FAT Brands is actually the third company I have taken public in my career and the hardest one for that matter, as it took six years and a lot of doors being closed on me during the process.

Persistence and perseverance got me to where I am today. From my previous experiences, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. I was very successful in the financial space, but I almost lost it all and had to get back up again and start over. When you get knocked down, only you can decide to pick yourself up off the canvas and get back in the ring. And for me, it took a lot of convincing back in 2004/2005 when I began growing this brand. There will always be someone doubting me; however, I will never let that slow me down. Most recently, I’m particularly proud of the $80 million securitization deal FAT Brands completed, and during a global pandemic, of all times. It opens the door to institutional investors again for us.

After any setback, you can decide to keep marching along. I’ve always found that if you do,  eventually people take notice and switch their mindset to look at how far you’ve come.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Andy: First and foremost, you have to be firm and fair while providing clear direction. In order to get someone to perform, you need to provide direction on what you want out of them. Then when you provide constructive criticism, they will embrace the feedback versus putting up a wall. Also, as a leader, you have to make a lot of decisions, but not instantaneously. It is OK to say “I don’t know,” and that you need some time to think about it. 

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs and executives?

Andy: It takes a certain person to be an entrepreneur. Not everyone is cut out for it. Being an entrepreneur is stressful as it comes with so much risk, and there is no on-and-off switch. Here is my advice:

Cut yourself some slack every now and then. Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 gig. You need to let yourself recharge every once in a while so you can bring the best version of yourself to the table.

Hit singles and doubles. Don’t swing for the fences as home runs will come on their own.

Pivot when necessary. I can speak to this in particular for this year, as COVID certainly impacted the restaurant space and how we operate. While we planned to grow through our virtual and ghost kitchen models without COVID, we accelerated this strategy to adapt to the changing times and to remain competitive in what is a challenging environment. 

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?

Andy: You need to pick leaders of teams who are capable and effective—there is nothing worse than a team not respecting a leader. Additionally, it is imperative that you have trust and confidence in them. If you have any doubt they shouldn’t be on your team in the first place. You don’t have time, and it’s not productive to be second guessing your own leaders. 

It is essential that you know what to bring to the leader and that you have a strong working relationship with your leaders in which they know what decisions they can make on their own and what they need advice on. It really is a fine balance. Most importantly, don’t forget to pick up the phone. A lot gets lost in translation digitally, so it is important to make that extra effort in speaking with someone along with the traditional emails, text, etc.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Andy: It’s a long race and you need to have the stamina to win the marathon. It is inevitable that you will face setbacks. You need to hold your head high and look towards your end goal.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Andy: I think it is so important to share your experiences openly with others. This includes both the successes and failures. Anyone who is successful in the business world is going to tell you it was hard to get there and that they fell down 7 flights of stairs to make it up 8 or 9. 

Being candid is key in shaping our future leaders. For example, I make an effort to go back to my alma mater, USC, and speak at their entrepreneurship school. Also, I frequently talk at restaurant industry events, sharing my journey of ups and downs. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Andy: This isn’t a hobby per se (who doesn’t like skiing, tennis or the beach), but being a dad has certainly shaped who I am. I started having kids in my early 20’s and they have been a huge part of my life ever since. From their sporting events to schooling, I have always made it a priority to be there for each of my six children. Now that they are older, I look forward to traveling with them and seeing them build their own families.

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