When people hear about “Noble Enterprise”, they often think, “Well, that would certainly be nice, but not in our business, not in our industry.” They think it too lofty a goal that can’t be reached because Reality interferes – the need to sell to demanding customers without losing your shirt, the need to control waste and keep employees focused on the proverbial “bottom line” etc. “We can’t afford (the thinking goes) to serve some lofty purpose, or to be honorable because it’s just not practical and stands in the way of profitability.”
Yet when a business is shaped and led as a Noble Enterprise, it can actually achieve traditional business results far beyond the norm.
Given all those natural reactions to the concept of the Noble Enterprise – in a world of selfishness, cut-throat competition, mundane work, and struggle, I’d like to introduce you to an example of a noble enterprise that I learned about recently – one that serves pizza and beer. How, you say, could such a business be noble? “Let me count the ways,” as the saying go.
First, keep in mind the five pillars of a noble enterprise, for each one of these pillars is developed and stressed in this pizza and pub.
- Serving a Higher Purpose
- Acting with Ethical Values
- Growing People
- Providing Freedom within Structure
- Thinking and Acting with a Holistic Mindset
Now for this inspiring example: The company is Nick’s Pizza and Pub (in Illinois).
It is likely one of the largest independent pizza companies in the country – and certainly one of the best, as you will see below. There are now several additional locations. It is also one of the most profitable. Industry profit levels run about 6.6% of revenue. Nicks’ runs about 14% – over twice the norm!
A NEW ATTITUDE: First of all, its founder, Nick Sarillo, started with a different view of business and people than the prevailing view. He observed, “Everyone who had a business told me, ‘No one cares like an owner.’ They said, ‘Watch out. People are going to steal.’ I set out to prove them wrong.”
HIGHER PURPOSE: Sarillo didn’t want to start just any pizza and pub company. He wanted to start, build and lead the best possible company. That intent is a great start. And what did he think such a “best company” would look like? He already had a good pizza recipe, since he grew up in his father’s pizza business. But he knew it would be about far more than just the pizza. Here’s how he puts it on Nick’s website:
OUR PURPOSE: “Our Dedicated Family Provides This Community an unforgettable Place; to Connect with your Family and Friends, to Have Fun and to Feel at Home”.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY: He wanted the company’s and his relationship with its customers to go beyond just pizza – i.e., beyond just the material dimension. It had to be much deeper. Here’s what he’s done about forming and nurturing this caring relationship
- Given these tough economic times, he has responded in an unusual way. A sign at the entrance to Nick’s says it all:
“Kane County unemployment
6.3% vs. 11.1%
Sept 2008 – Sept 2009
½ Price Monday and Takeout
Tuesday are here to stay until the
unemployment lines go away”
- Nick’s restaurants host fundraisers usually each week. The company contributes 15% of its gross profit from the event. Also Nick’s sponsors several large benefits each year usually for families facing high medical bills. The company contributes 100% of its gross profits for the day and the servers often contribute their tips.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PEOPLE: How can one build a Noble Enterprise out of a pizza company? Now that’s a concept! After all, the typical employee is a teenager trying to pick up some extra cash as he or she goes through high school – and usually moving on after a short time. What do they care? In fact, the typical turnover rate for pizza businesses is about 200% (that is, each job has to be filled three times a year), whereas turnover at Nick’s is about 20% (that is, only one out of every five jobs has to be filled each year!) – a remarkable stat, given that most of his employees are teenagers! Ninety-six percent of those hired stay at least a year.
How in the world did/does he accomplish that? It’s a long story, sprinkled with innovative people-centered ways of hiring, training, rewarding and advancing people – and of giving them scope to do the job on their own. It’s also about growing people, so (even at a pizza place) he has found ways for people to develop themselves and their skills. And it’s about creating a sense of community, of oneness.
People outside the business can hardly believe the loyalty and excitement the staff has for the company and their role in it. You probably won’t be surprised that only one out of every twelve applicants gets hired by Nick’s. One 25-year old server reflected, “When I come here, I really don’t feel like I’m coming to work” (sic). She works only on the weekend and has a full-time job at an advertising agency during the week. “My boyfriend doesn’t understand it. I just like to be here.” Wouldn’t you do just about anything to have employees who feel that way about your company and their role in it?
A MANAGEMENT STRATEGY OF “Trust and Track”
One of the ways he keeps staff is that he gives them authority and freedom. That’s such a foreign and scary concept in most traditional corporations. As he puts it, “All of our systems are geared toward creating a culture of trust. A lot of people would say trust is intangible. We’ve made it tangible by putting these systems in place. They allow you to see whether the trust is there and whether the way people behave is promoting or undermining trust.” And that’s just for starters.
After fourteen years of building and growing his company, he was asked whether he wants to open more Nick’s Pizza & Pubs. His answer: “Oh, yes, I feel more inspired to grow than ever. People really do want to have a meaningful place to work, and that is one thing I know how to do well. So how could I not want to keep doing it for more and more people? I mean, what could be a more fulfilling life?”
Bravo! We need more Nick Sarillo’s and Nick’s Pizza & Pubs – not only because of what they do for their customers and communities, but especially because of what they do for their employees (and their leaders)!
If you would like to learn more about Nick’s go to http://www.nickspizzapub.com/home/ and also to Fast Company, the source of the above information (an article “Lessons from a Blue-Collar Millionaire” in the February 2010 issue) – with more about the owner and his secrets of success.
For more about Noble Enterprise, go to http://www.noblebusinesssolutions.com/nobleEnterprise.html
and for information about the book on Noble Enterprise, go to http://www.noblebusinesssolutions.com/nobleEnterprise.html