Have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE ALWAYS and work to become optimistic. I like to encourage people to find a way every day to get themselves into a positive frame of mind. Whatever you can do in the morning to set a positive tone for your day, do it.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Burcham. Shawn is the Founder & CEO of Pro Food Systems, Inc. (PFSbrands) which he and his wife Julie started out of their home in 1998. PFSbrands has grown to 140+ employee-owners across 18 states and is now 100% employee-owned. The company has over 1,300 branded foodservice locations across 39 states and they are best known for their Champs Chicken franchise brand which was started in 1999 — check out Champs Chicken Franchise Opportunities here. The company now offers BluTaco as a franchise brand and Cooper’s Express as a license program. They also create private label food programs for many of their customers. PFSbrands works predominately with supermarkets and convenience stores across the country.
Prior to starting PFSbrands, Shawn spent 5 years with a Fortune 100 company, Mid-America Dairymen (now Dairy Farmers of America). Pioneering an intern program and a sales training program at a young age just after graduating college, he assumed a 14 state Regional Sales Manager position for the Packaged & Processed Cheese Division. He went on to spend three years as a Regional Sales Manager for a midwest Chester’s fried chicken distributor.
Shawn decided to take a major risk in quitting his job and starting a business from the ground floor in 1998. Since starting PFSbrands, Shawn has started and grown over 10 businesses while also investing in other businesses where he feels he can help owners become more successful, including the business coaching company GRITT Business Coaching which includes the proprietary goal tracking software GRITTrac.
It’s because of these varied experiences that Shawn truly believes empowering employees to think and act like owners is the recipe for success.
Shawn is passionate about helping others become more successful in work and in life. He believes in taking care of employees and providing them with opportunities where they can excel. He has a non-entitlement mentality and a straight-talk approach. He believes that all leaders need to CARE, HAVE FUN, and HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE TO HIGH EXPECTATIONS. Shawn is a true entrepreneur that has taken the risks necessary to lead a company to double-digit growth for 20+ years.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
At the age of 14 I started my first business in lawn care. Through high school and college I never minded working. I enjoyed the satisfaction of “earning” a paycheck. After graduating college I wrote a goal down on a sheet of paper that said “I want to start my own business before I turn 28”. Over the next five years of working for a large Fortune 100 company and a small independently owned company, I searched for all types of business opportunities. In July of 1998, just before turning 28 in November of that same year, my wife Julie and I started Pro Food Systems. While the company started out in the coffee and cappuccino business, in 1999 we created the Champs Chicken branded food program which has ultimately led us on a path of double digit growth for 20 years. I am obsessed with my own success and self-improvement and I love to see other people succeed.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I remember a trip to the New York/New Jersey area as I was training at Mid-America Dairymen. I was working with the Director of Italian Cheese sales and we were calling on the owner of a food distributorship in this northeast area. As we walked into the office, a gentleman started cussing, ranting and raving about how bad our company sucks. He was upset about some quality and service issues and he went on for about 5 minutes. The person I was with gave him time to vent and maintained a calm composer. Then, with a straight-talk approach he informed the gentleman that he’s here to help and if we can calm down, we’ll make thing better moving forward. Not only was it a good lesson to see how certain people act, it was a great lesson in remaining calm. I have a motto today that I credit to this event and also some books written by Navy Seal Commanders. When I’m in stressful situations I tell myself this: “Calm is contagious. Relax, look around, make a call”.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
This is going to sound really simple, but I’ve been asked this question for 20+ years and my answer has always been the same, “PEOPLE”. I believe in surrounding myself with great people while providing them the tools and autonomy to do their jobs.
In my book, Keeping Score with GRITT: Straight-Talk Strategies For Success” I write about Madi Books. Madi interviewed at PFSbrands for a position that she didn’t qualify for. However, because she fit our culture and because she had a unique skill set, we crafted a position that she could excel in. I’ve got numerous stories where I’ve hired interviewees for positions different than what they originally interviewed for. I have a tough time passing up opportunities to hire great people.
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?
Without a doubt, my father. Unfortunately I lost dad this year, but his lessons and wisdom provided me a mindset and work ethic to succeed in life. I’ve got a lot of people that have helped me along the way, but dad was along side of me for 49 years.
I remember as a young boy sitting in the car before getting out at baseball practice. We were the first ones there. I remember saying that we were early and I asked him if he could hit me some grounders.
Before we got out of the car my father said, “I know we’re early, but if you want to be successful you need to show up earlier than everyone else, work smarter and harder than anyone else, and stay later than everyone else”. This was one of many opportunities he used to emphasize the importance of work ethic.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience as the dictionary defines it is: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. I like to relate resilience to GRITT. Yes, that’s GRITT with two T’s. Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. I define GRITT as Goal driven, Responsible, Involved, Team and Tolerance of failure.
That tolerance of failure allows certain individuals to bounce back quicker than most people.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Oh man, I have many I could name here. I am obsessed with successful people and I know that everyone of them has a different kind of resilience. In my book I mention Abraham Lincoln. Abe made many different attempts to run for office of President. He lost numerous election campaigns but never gave up.
Ultimately he went on to endure many difficult situations as President while becoming known as one of our best. Not bad for a man that came from humble origins in the backwoods of Kentucky.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Many times. This is probably my biggest motivation. I love it when someone tells me I can’t do something. I believe it’s why PFSbrands is somewhat of a “disruptor” in our industry.
When I started PFSbrands, I had many people tell me that I was making a mistake and it wouldn’t work. I left a good job, my wife had quit teaching to stay home with our firstborn daughter, and we were starting a business from our garage. I (we) endured lots of challenges, but one of the driving forces in our success was the fact that people said I couldn’t do it.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I remember unexpectedly losing my brother-in-law in late November 2016. I was finalizing the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) transaction to transfer ownership of my company to my employees.
As if the transfer of the company wasn’t emotional enough, the loss of my brother-in-law and the grief this caused throughout my family was grueling. The work load associated with a large financial transaction, the emotion of “giving up” my business, and the time needed away from work to deal with this family tragedy was exhausting. During that time I referred back to one of my father’s favorite sayings: “this too shall pass”. I’m a very forward looking person, but that year in late 2016 will stick with me forever.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
For me, baseball and basketball were great experiences. When you are involved in team athletics, it requires you to work with others while also working on your own game. There are lots of failures involved with sports. A good batting average is .300, that means you are failing 70% of the time.
I missed my freshman year of high school baseball because I couldn’t try out due to a broken collar bone. Baseball was “my life” so this was devastating. I came back to play in my final three years of high school. The coaches and the experiences created a big impact on my life. Today, I refer to business as a game and work to teach everyone the “rules” so we can all win together.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Have a purpose in your life. For me, my core purpose is to help others to become more successful in work and in life. I’m so passionate about this that I created GRITT Business Coaching and wrote a book called Keeping Score with GRITT in an effort to help others develop better resiliency.
2. Have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE ALWAYS and work to become optimistic. I like to encourage people to find a way every day to get themselves into a positive frame of mind. Whatever you can do in the morning to set a positive tone for your day, do it.
3. Establish goals. A small percentage of people set goals. An even smaller percentage of people write them down. I’ve had numerous people over the years thank me for helping them to understand the importance of goal setting.
4. Surround yourself with a great network of people who are goal driven, purposeful, have a positive attitude, and desire to become more successful. I had one particular employee that comes to mind that simply could not develop a positive attitude. After several coaching attempts to correct this, we had to part ways. It’s amazing how mindsets adapt to the people you surround yourself with.
5. Become self-aware of your inherent strengths. I have used Kolbe Assessments and Gallup Strength Finder’s Assessments over the years to learn more about myself and others. By the age of 10 most people have developed their inherent strengths and we are all different. As you begin to be aware of these strengths, you can focus your energy in those areas.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A movement that could rid the world of entitlement, encourage more capitalism, and reward individuals that take the risks necessary to become more successful.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. 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? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Wow, that’s a tough question. I could think of many, but you asked for just one. I’ll go with Lori Greiner from Shark Tank. I’m a big fan of the show and I like her approach with people. She likes to “give back” to others and help them to become more successful in life and in business. I’m on a mission to do the same thing and I’d enjoy learning more about her story and investment strategies.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!