Hiring Right Doesn’t Always Mean Hiring for Experience: 5 Lessons from the CEO of sweetFrog

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“The best stories come about when a new franchisee comes into our family and performs better than expectations. We all love that.”
I had the great pleasure of interviewing J. Patrick Galleher, the chairman and CEO of sweetFrog, a chain of premium frozen yogurt parlors. The company was founded in 2009 by Derek Cha and his wife Annah Kim in Richmond, Virginia, and it was a wildly successful endeavor from the start. In four years, the company swelled to 215 stores in 25 states and has even gone international. But Cha knew that to grow even more, he would need help. In 2015, the investment group Boxwood Capital Partners became the majority owners of sweetFrog. Galleher is Boxwood’s managing director. The help definitely benefitted sweetFrog.
Today, sweetFrog has 350 locations and is continuing to grow. If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, don’t worry. You will.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

Oh, it’s been quite an interesting journey. I grew up the son of a professional golfer who started a chain of retail golf stores in the 1960’s. The business went bankrupt in the late 1980s however, after their company’s bank, Bank of New England, went bankrupt. These were challenging times for my family. They couldn’t refinance out of their line of credit, and we had to file the reorganization ourselves. And not many years later, my father died when I was 19.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful things happen too. In 2000, I became the COO and president of a company called WiLink, a software as a service company. This was right after the stock market crash, and in the midst of a lot of technological upheaval. I was the youngest CEO on the London Stock Exchange to run a company in the financial tech space at the time.

My wife, Julia, and I are also the parents of four great sons who are 16-, 15-, 13-, and 9-years-old. When I’m not busy with work and parenting, I’m
an avid golfer and skier.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Almost too many to choose one. The best stories come about when a new franchisee comes into our family and performs better than expectations. We all love that.

So what exactly does your company do?

We are the second largest frozen yogurt franchisor and retailer
in the US by the number of locations, and the largest by revenue. SweetFrog Enterprises is consistently rated number one by third parties.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

SweetFrog was founded on Christian principles, and the Frog part of our name is actually an acronym. F.R.O.G. stands for Fully Rely on God. We work very hard every day to give back to the communities where we do business. We deliver families a safe place to reward each other with great tasting and healthier products. Our team delivers both franchisees and customers an experience that is family friendly and stays true to our brand promise.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?

My mentor in business is a former Mars & Co and PepsiCo executive who assisted me throughout my career. He taught me the importance of staying focused on the “core” key performance indicators (KPIs) for each business. For our business, we are especially focused on:

  1. Customer satisfaction
  2. Our growing number of locations
  3. Franchisee and location profitability
  4. Increasing customer frequency, otherwise known as “door swings.”

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One touching moment that really stands out for me was when the Make-a- Wish Foundation brought a child with cancer to sweetFrog. We focus on providing a safe place for church groups, associations, and organizations to perform fundraisers.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I became CEO,” and why?

  1. Always stay focused on Core KPIs. If you don’t measure your progress across a wide spectrum of factors—from how many customers you have and how much revenue you’re bringing in to how much growth your company is experiencing—you can’t know where you’re falling short, and you can’t improve.
  2. People matter. Results can’t be delivered without the right people on the bus. The concept behind the business can be phenomenal, and so can the product, but those things won’t matter if the people you employ aren’t a good fit. You simply can’t grow and thrive as a business without the
    right people.
  3. Find the right balance between “Ready? Aim. Fire!” Spending too much time on any one aspect can paralyze a business and organization. Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decision, just make one!
  4. Focus versus diversification. When is focus appropriate versus diversifying your product, service, and core offerings? You need to balance what you deliver and ensure you stay authentic to your brand promise.
  5. Don’t be afraid to get the wrong people off the bus. Negative, lazy, and underperforming team members cause more harm than operating without them. Hire people for their attitude and passion, and train them on products and industry knowledge. Too many CEOs hire for experience versus attitude. Experience matters, but I’d rather be working with people who are growing and will get that experience than someone who is experienced but has stopped growing and is just there for the paycheck.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

George W Bush. He led this country during a very difficult time. Perceptions of him are changing daily, and I would love to get his thoughts on today’s climate, how he feels eight years out of the presidency, and how he feels he will be perceived 20 years from now.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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