Roland Dickey Jr. is an award-winning executive based in Dallas, Texas and the Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Capital Group. Previously serving as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., Dickey has worked for the family business for over two decades, during which time he has grown it from a small barbecue franchise to the largest in the world.
Dickey grew up learning the ropes for running the business, but after graduating from Southern Methodist University with a degree in Business Administration he started his career by working for other businesses within the restaurant industry in order to gain outside experience. When he was finally ready to join the family business in 1999, he came to it with big ideas. Dickey’s grandfather Travis Dickey had started the restaurant in 1941, and when his father Roland Dickey Sr. took over the business in 1967 he grew it from one location to a franchise business with twenty locations over the next 30 years. Dickey wanted to see them grow even faster, and implemented a push to take the franchise national, putting it up against fast-casual rivals such as Chipotle.
He became Chief Executive Officer in 2006, and by focusing on smart strategic growth and utilizing technology for scalable success that saw the chain add over 400 locations in five years, including two internationally. In his time leading Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, the company was profiled by Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as earning accolades within the industry such as “Best Food and Drink Franchise” by Global Franchises and “Best Franchise Deal” by QSR. In 2016, as a result of the rapid growth the company restructured, and Dickey was made Chief Executive Officer of the newly created Dickey’s Capital Group, a parent company for everything under the Dickey’s brand including
Where did the idea for Dickey’s Capital Group come from?
Well, I am the third generation to run our family business, so I guess you could say originally the idea for the company came from my grandfather. He was always a social butterfly, and starting a barbecue restaurant let him combine his love of talking with his love of slow-smoked meats. He and my grandmother ran the restaurant for over 25 years, and after he died my father took over the business with help from my uncle. They expanded Dickey’s to additional locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and eventually began franchising in 1994 when the demand outgrew their reach for managing the restaurants themselves.
My idea for the company was the push for national expansion into the fast-casual sector. At the time I joined the family business, barbecue was a distinctly regional cuisine. It varied greatly from state to state and even within Texas everybody had their own idea of what ‘good’ barbecue was, but there was a hole in the market for a fast-casual barbecue restaurant and I knew that if we continued to focus on quality, we had the ability to fill that hole. Today, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is the largest barbecue franchise in the world, with additional expansion internationally.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Tons and tons of caffeine in the morning, continued through the afternoon, with a follow-up of wine and melatonin for the evening. Well that’s close, but if I’m being literal I’m usually in the office by 7:30AM and start the day with standing rapid morning meetings. At 8:40AM every morning we have a company-wide charge call, and then at 9:00AM the finance meetings start. Standing morning meetings with a consistent structure is how I make sure everything stays on track and productive. By keeping things on a tight and steady schedule there is much less of a likelihood of wasted time and superfluousness. People can prioritize better if they always know when they will be able to discuss next. After that my schedule becomes more flexible but always active, with operations meetings, energy drinks, a lunch at my desk, then a blur of emails, calls, and more meetings. My last meeting is always our 5:15PM revenue call, after which I reserve an hour of desk ‘think time’ before heading home for dinner.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Reading and researching is a major source of new ideas for me, and then talking them out with my team is what brings them to life. I love to find articles or books and share them with our executive team. I get a few key folks together and we round-table about an idea to discuss their opinions. I want to get their honest opinion of what they both like and dislike about the idea, and in this way we are able to bring the full picture together and work to implement it system-wide. I also have standing weekly creative meetings with our research and development team.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The return of the subscription service. In the past there was a whole market for mail order purchases, but today it has been updated and made better through the internet. Now brands are creating upscale and curated versions of this old idea, and people are rediscovering the convenience that comes with subscribing to a product or service. That is guaranteed consistent revenue, and I believe this is an exciting opportunity that many brands could expand into.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I avoid getting scattered by focusing on one thing at a time. Your brain isn’t ever truly multitasking – it’s actually just switching very quickly from one task to another, so when you are trying to do two things at once you are actually not fully concentrating on either of them. While it may feel like you are accomplishing multiple things at once, because you aren’t giving either your complete and total focus you are more likely to make mistakes and less likely to come up with creative solutions to problems. For me that means no checking my phone or even emails so that I can give my full attention to what is in front of me at the time. I also take a walk for an hour each day, to give myself the ability to work through creative ideas devoid of any sort of distraction.
What advice would you give your younger self?
First, enjoy the show, don’t be the show. When you’re young you have this big desire to be seen and heard at all times, but I would say I’ve learned more often than not it’s better to observe and learn than be the one taking all the risks and making all of the mistakes as a result. Second, arrive early and stay late. When you get somewhere early it allows you to thoughtfully prepare yourself for the task at hand, whether that be a meeting, event or just a normal work day. When you stay late, you often get a chance to interact more with people you normally wouldn’t and again get more time to observe rather than act. And my final advice is: never ask your wife to trim your hair.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m an excellent driver – I should have pursued NASCAR.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take chances, don’t play it safe. Some of the risks might not pay off, but they will provide you an opportunity to learn and make your business better. I always say that if your business isn’t growing it’s shrinking, and it’s only by taking chances that you can innovate and gain a competitive edge over the competition. Additionally, exercise your mind by reading and taking in as much information as possible. Whether it’s books, audio books, articles, or even podcasts – whatever works for you – never stop learning, because the day you do is the day you (and your business) stop growing.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
ACT, which stands for acknowledge, communicate and take things to completion. We are very direct in our business. We identify needs or challenges quickly and candidly. We communicate solutions. Then we make sure we implement well. As a culture we encourage taking risks that may end in error so long as you are candid, sincere and always pushing to improve. For example, we had a sausage shortage during the pandemic, so we decided the only option was to not be in such a position again and make our own sausage. So we are.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early in my career, I promoted our best waiter to a different management role. He really wanted more, but it was a terrible fit; he ended up leaving the company, which was a big loss all around. Over the years, I’ve learned it’s extremely important to ensure a new role is the right fit before moving a successful person. Your business is only as good as the people on your team, and while you often hear stories about hiring the wrong people I think it’s equally as important to make sure you don’t lose the good ones by putting them in the wrong position. You have to match their skill set, expectations and desire.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Nonprofit water. I would start a bottled water company that helps nonprofits get their branded water into restaurants to raise funds. Win/win.
As a more general business idea, I think the most important is to never lose money. Don’t take this literally, because like I said earlier sometimes when you are taking chances it inevitably may lead to losing money. Rather, stay sensible. Don’t be frivolous. Don’t take risks with a cavalier attitude. Be thoughtful, be informed and do your homework before making any decisions.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
New Balance tennis shoes. I actually went in and had them fitted, and it’s amazing what a difference a good shoe makes. It’s important to take care of yourself both mentally and physically, and I’m looking forward to breaking these in.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Amazon Web Services is a one stop shop that has been incredibly useful to us, but as a company we have put a focus on building everything else in-house. I believe in making informed decisions based on data, so I’ve tried to ensure that we have as much access and control over that information as possible. We’ve built our own proprietary data platform, consumer app, and have worked to implement information technology in almost every aspect of our company, even restaurant operations.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr. It’s an insider’s breakdown of Amazon’s approach to culture, leadership, and best practices from two long-time executives, and the detail they go into is extraordinary and very applicable to many types of businesses. We have ended up adopting several of the practices Amazon uses and seen success with them. One example is single-thread owners, making them a leader of one deliverable, valuable, business outcome. Using this concept, it allows those within our team to stay focused on creating results while not getting bogged down by other aspects of our business. The book has many other gems of insight in it and is worth a read.
What is your favorite quote?
My greatest business influence is definitely my dad. He always included me in the business even when I was very young, never excluding me from the conversation and always gave me great advice like – ‘never negotiate against yourself’ and ‘what gets measured gets managed.’ He also told me to read constantly, which was the most invaluable way he could teach me to become a better leader. The books below have deeply impacted how I view business, especially the flywheel concept and thinking backwards.
- Take chances, don’t play it safe.
- Place your complete focus on the task at hand – avoid attempting to multitask.
- Read. Learning is the best way to grow.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.