This article originally appeared in Thrive Global on 7/10/19.

The following is a one-on-one interview with Adam Mendler, contributor at Thrive Global, and Capriotti’s CEO Ashley Morris.

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?

Ashley: I have extraordinary vision – 20/05. It has gotten better over the years. It’s my superpower! Friends are always amazed when I can read a road sign well before they can even see it off in the distance.

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

Ashley: From a young age, I only envisioned one career path: finance. When I started college at University of Nevada Las Vegas, I worked as a bank teller at Wells Fargo and quickly moved up the ranks and became one of the top performing brokers in the company by age 25. My future in portfolio management was looking bright and I had extra money to invest, so I sat down with a longtime friend to brainstorm new business ideas and we both showed up at the table with just one idea: Capriotti’s!

In college, my roommate and I were obsessed with Capriotti’s; an award-winning sandwich shop known for whole roasting turkeys every night. We even broke our apartment lease just to move closer to a Capriotti’s so we could walk and get our favorite sandwiches. I would eat Capriotti’s multiple times a week, sometimes for lunch and dinner.

In 2005, my friend Jason Smylie and I became Capriotti’s franchisees. We quickly opened three locations in two years, and then did what we had never dreamed of – bought the entire sandwich company, which at the time had 36 locations. Now as the CEO of Capriotti’s, I have guided the brand for over ten years and built a fantastic management team and franchise partner support program more than tripling the brand in size along the way.

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?

Ashley: My leadership philosophy is to always be the “dumbest person in the room” – acting as the student vs. the teacher by asking the tough questions and listening to everyone’s thoughts and ideas along the way. I also like to ask questions that challenge everyone’s thinking and break paradigms. This provides our team with the possibility of arriving at game changing goals and objectives. My responsibility is to continually hire and support team members who have the skills and capabilities outside those of my own, and align with our core values, helping me build a successful business and foster my own personal growth.

For example, I had a grandiose marketing vision that would have cost $100K+ if executed across the franchise system, but after speaking with the marketing team, they were not in agreeance. I decided to test it at just one store anyway – at a cost of $10K – and it turned out the marketing team was right. If I surrounded myself with people who always agreed with my ideas, I would waste a lot of time and money.

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

Ashley:
1. No matter how much capital you think you need, you always need more. So raise more up front. When we put the first investor group together to acquire the brand, we raised an additional $500k for working capital. It was just the second month into us owning the company that we realized we needed much more money to accomplish our plans on time. Instead of just getting to work and making things happen, I had to go out and raise additional capital.

2. Pay close attention to the economic business cycle and use it to your advantage when possible. We took ownership Jan 1, 2008. Within four months, we experienced a banking meltdown that lead to a five-year recession. We never factored that into our analysis or business planning and if we had, we may have been able to take advantage of many things that we did not.

3. Commit to marketing and invest into it as much as possible. In the early years of our ownership, we decided to put marketing on the back burner because of the monetary obligation. The problem here is that if there’s not a commitment to marketing, then it may always live on the back burner because there never seems to be enough money. The truth is, marketing is critical to the long-term success of a business and if done right it’s an investment rather than an expense.

4. Litigation and Legal Fees are just part of big business. Plan for it and try your best to minimize it. I had no idea how expensive legal work would be when we got started. I also never thought so many facets of the business would require specialized counsel. We didn’t do a great job of budgeting in this area and it caused us to miss our financial plans a few times. Today we are much better at it.

5. Read the book “Traction” and follow its operating system for your business. This book helped advance our strategic planning and execution beyond belief. It helped us get clear on best in class internal operating systems that insures we get our goals accomplished and achieve next level results for the business without dysfunction. We didn’t read it until our 7th year of ownership and it has been transformative. Had we embraced this when we started, I think it would have saved us a lot of time and energy.

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

Ashley: You can truly accomplish anything you put your heart and your mind to!!

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

Ashley: Find the employee in your company you know the very least about and take them to lunch and get to know them on a much better personal level. Avoid work talk. I guarantee they will appreciate it and both of you will learn something valuable.

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

Ashley: I love golfing at the beautiful courses in Las Vegas. I like to play at two different golf courses, Red Rock Golf Course or Bears Best. They are both close to my house and well-kept golf courses that allow me to take some time for myself, doing something that I enjoy in order to relax and refuel.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Ashley: Work with people that align with your core values first and foremost, and the success will follow.