Learning from Leaders: IFA Leadership Conference’s Meg Rose of Firehouse Subs

Headshot of Firehouse Subs Vice President of Field Operations Meg RoseThere are some leaders among us that were lucky enough to know what they wanted to do in life from the very beginning. Flash back to playtime in the sandbox and there was that kid—the one who knew he wanted to become the editor of a magazine, chief of surgery…or even the ruler of the free world (everyone should dream, right?). And then there are those who are born with natural leadership inclinations—coordinating sleepovers, becoming the captain of the basketball team or student class president—and develop career passions and ambitions as they, well, live.

Meg Rose, vice president of field operations at Firehouse Subs, was more of the latter. Her restaurant career began early; she might even say before she knew that it would shape the direction of her years to come. So, for our next Learning from Leaders blog post featuring the panelists of February 20th’s IFA Leadership Conference, we’re bringing you Meg’s journey.

The Early Years

I always wanted to be a leader. I think that’s just kind of within you. You have some of those natural traits and, over time, you develop and hone them.

Meg’s first foray into the restaurant business was during her college years, when she picked up a waitressing job at a bar. After outgrowing the opportunities available there, she began looking for new work. She landed at TGI Fridays, where she worked as a daytime waitress, with the added challenge of managing a bar at night. It wasn’t long before the higher-ups saw her potential. She was offered a management position, which she accepted and pursued for the next couple of years: “My philosophy was get in, work hard and work my way up.”

Her franchise restaurant experience really kicked into gear when she met the first Applebee’s franchisee to open a restaurant in Upstate New York. She was hired onto the team as a manager, grew into the general manager, and eventually was promoted to the district manager position! This was some time ago, back when the entire franchise consisted of 250 units. By the time she left, Applebee’s was going strong, having reached 1,700. And with that single-unit Upstate New York franchise owner, Meg helped grow his store roster from one to 62 units! Her personal mantra, “work hard, work up,” was paying off. “I learned along the way that if you worked hard, developed the team, were innovative and kept up with what was going on in the industry, you could do well.”

In this new DM role, Meg gained experience in a wide variety of restaurant management; from liquor licensing to new site construction to local marketing, her knowledge portfolio was growing.

[The franchise owner] had very high standards. When you learn from the best and get indoctrinated into that, every day, you’re kind of running like you’re always going to do the right thing for the guest and the employee.

Enter: Firehouse Subs

After 13.5 years and another promotion to regional director, Meg left Applebee’s and began her career at Firehouse Subs in 2007. Firehouse subs is a “fast casual restaurant chain with a passion for Hearty and Flavorful Food, Heartfelt Service and Public Safety.” Luckily, she reflects, Firehouse shares a similar value set to those of her previous employer, so it was an easy transition.

She began her Firehouse Subs journey as a franchise business manager, where she spent her days out in the field with Area Representatives. There were 272 restaurants at that time. Because she did have such an extensive résumé in operations, the co-founder, Robin Sorensen, and CEO, Don Fox, presented her with a new opportunity: to take on the director of company operations role for the franchisor’s portfolio of 32 corporate-owned restaurants, which she then solidified as some of the most successful in the system.

After five years, she was promoted to her current role, vice president of field operations, where she oversees operations in 952 restaurants (32 corporate-owned and 920 franchise-owned)—that’s right, a growth of 250% since she started with the company!

Advocating Adaptation

Though Meg has achieved incredible success, the road hasn’t always been easy. She recalls one of her most difficult career challenges during her time as director of company operations at Firehouse Subs. When she began working with her new team of general managers at the corporate restaurants, she quickly learned that this group hadn’t been quite as adequately trained or empowered to lead as she would’ve liked. That, in addition to a district manager structure that had a single DM overseeing 15 restaurants, was creating an ineffectual network of stores.

Instead of attempting to maintain the existing store structure, Meg advocated for adaptation and established a new standard of excellence. She took over as district manager of seven restaurants, alleviating the load on her DMs. She took time to educate and develop her GMs. And though that was one of the busiest and trying times of her career, she’s grateful for it: “I knew that if I really wanted to understand operations on the restaurant level, I had to work closely with the GMs, their systems and learn their responsibilities. What I also gained was an unadulterated appreciation for hard work.” But it didn’t stop there. Meg made it a point to recognize the successes of her team. “I’m not doing this alone. If we succeed, it’s because of them.”

Lessons from a Leader

When it comes to excelling as a leader, Meg has a few words of advice:

  • Build relationships with the people that you are leading. “You always hope that people are going to follow you, but you have to give them a reason to do that. Taking someone aside and going, ‘Hey, how are you doing today?’ or even remembering something they told you in the past or asking about what goals they have for the future can have such a positive impact in the long run.”
  • Use your words carefully. “Understand that, as you go higher up the chain, your words can have a truly debilitating impact on people working for you. Avoid making jokes or comments that you have not thought all the way through. Verbiage used can be misinterpreted or misread by people. As you advance, you can’t afford to have people misread what you’re saying; it’s an important thing for new managers to learn.”

To hear more from Meg, we invite you to join us at the IFA Leadership Conference Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 11:30 a.m. UTC, where she’ll speak more on learning at every turn.

Note: re:group is a sponsor of this event.

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