“The Right Motivation Makes for a Strong Team”, with Mark Parmerlee, President & CEO of Golden Chick

“People will work eight hours for a paycheck, but 24 hours for a cause.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Parmerlee, President & CEO of Golden Chick. Mark is known by many for his philanthropic initiatives, trendsetting taste, and intense drive to do things better. Mark purchased the Dallas-based brand, Golden Chick, in 1989 when it only had 69 units and has turned it into a restaurant empire that stretches from Paris, Texas, to Pakistan. Mark’s company, Golden Tree Restaurants, has ownership in Jalapeno Tree, Texadelphia, Heff’s Burgers and JC’s Burger House.

What is your “backstory?”

Like most teenagers, I announced that I wanted a car for my 16th birthday, and my mother asked how I was going to pay for it. Thus, began my start in the restaurant business: a dishwasher at a family restaurant chain. I enjoyed dishwashing, but wanted to learn more so I requested additional responsibility. Between showing up on time, working hard and the turnover of the restaurant business, I moved up to prep, line cook and eventually broiler cook.

Whenever a new restaurant came to town, I’d apply even if it was a step back in responsibility and pay. In one of those situations, I started as a busboy, and ended up with a full-time job as kitchen manager during my senior year of high school. After graduation, I attended the Hotel School at Cornell, spent time as a real estate and hospitality consultant position at a large accounting firm, worked in real estate development, and had a stint as an investment banker in NYC. In 1989, I became an investor and operating partner at Golden Chick and eventually bought out my partners in 1997.

Share the funniest/most interesting story that occurred to you during your career?

When I bought Golden Chick, a group of franchisees were certain that as a NYC investment banker, I was only there to quickly build up the company and sell. I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t sell if an offer came along, but that certainly was not my intent. I had friends and colleagues laugh and say I would get bored running a small company (we were only 60 restaurants back then) after working on large deals as a consultant and investment banker. These jokes were back in 1989, and now it’s 2017 and I’m definitely not bored. When asked about my “exit strategy,” I tell everyone that it’s a coffin.

Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects/how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Following my two liver transplants in 2002 and 2004, I became a volunteer at Baylor Hospital. I regularly visit and speak to patients that are going through the transplant process to evaluate them as viable candidates. I try my best to provide hope to the patients and their families, leaving them smiling and less scared of the future.

Additionally, Golden Chick supports law enforcement whenever we can, whether it be through food or monetary donations. Our biggest donation was last year after five officers were killed by a sniper in Dallas as part of Back the Blue. Through the DFW Co-op of Golden Chick restaurants, we raised over $30,000 for the Assist the Officer Foundation, benefitting the families of fallen officers.

Tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause.

One of my franchisees had been locked out of two restaurant locations by his landlord. I wired money to protect him from certain ruin. Afterwards, he thanked me for being the first person to truly believe in him, saying he would work extremely hard to show the world that my faith in him was well founded. Through this I helped him grow into a 10-store franchisee, who owns the real estate at more than half of his units. It is truly one of the greatest turnaround examples I have ever witnessed.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

1. You can learn more by listening than through talking. Early in my career I was like a lot of young men: anxious to show the world that I was the smartest guy in the room. I quickly realized I wasn’t and learned to listen.

2. A group can cover a lot more ground than an individual. As the saying goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” This seemed to make sense early in my career, but I came to learn that delegation has many rewards.

3. People will work eight hours for a paycheck, but 24 hours for a cause. I have found that most people will do what they are told, and not much more, if they are only doing it for a paycheck. If you get people to feel they are part of a bigger picture and a respected member of the team the company becomes a cause.

4. Don’t let boat anchors weigh you down. I used to try to please everyone, but ultimately found it impossible. That goes hand in hand with, “if you try to please everyone, you often please no-one.”

5. Be confident enough in the things you know to be comfortable with what you don’t know. As a young consultant, I had a client ask me a question that I didn’t have an answer for, but felt I should. I danced around, and gave a vague response. Afterwards, I promised myself to always be honest even if I didn’t have the answers.

Is there a person in the world you would love to have a private meal with, why?

George W. Bush, who has used his success to make the world a better place. He brought attention and funding to AIDS in Africa, hosts golf tournaments and bike rides benefitting veterans and has done much for wounded warriors by painting their portraits and telling their stories. Although I’ve never met him, I have heard him speak and toured his library on SMU’s campus. While many debate his politics; I believe that no one can dispute he’s a caring person who has used his notoriety to help others without seeking glory for himself.