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Driven & Co. Ep: 17 – Finding a Way to Fulfill on a Mission

Mark Roden, President of Desert Subway, Inc., talks with host Justin Gray about getting started in the franchise business, building a loyal team and living his father’s entrepreneurial dream – all on the latest episode of DRIVEN: How Did I Get Here? 

LeadMD podcast: Mark Roden
Tell us about what a day-to-day looks like for you?

I typically get 400 emails a day, so I usually try to get through the important ones first thing in the morning. I have a daughter, so once I get her off to school I try to keep meetings more toward the middle of the day. I like to have enough time to start on action items. It drives me crazy to have too many balls up in the air. I’m happier if I can finish some things and give closure to issues.

You own 56 Subway restaurants. How do you manage that volume of stores?

You have to find good people and delegate the proper accountabilities to them. I have 600 employees that rely upon me to make sure their paychecks are good every two weeks, so there really isn’t such a thing as a day off. Day in and day out there’s always work to do.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My father was a patent attorney for a major manufacturing firm. I never really thought about it much, and just assumed I would also be an attorney. Then I woke up at 18 and decided to go into journalism instead. I ended up switching to marketing when I realized my journalistic dream wasn’t going to pay anything at all. I thought marketing would be my ticket to getting a good job with a good company and making a good salary.

What made you change your direction?

Right when I was about to graduate my father died. I started to wonder if I really wanted to chase all those things. I decided I would go back to school and pursue elementary education and possibly become a coach. I thought education would be more meaningful than selling widgets.

How did your father inspire your path to entrepreneurship?

The last time I saw him he said if he had one dream in life it would be for me and my brother to be able to own our own businesses. Owning a business was something he’d always hoped for himself, but by the time he was 32 he had four kids and a wife and didn’t feel he could take the risk. He passed away five months after this conversation and it really stuck with me. A year later the Subway opportunity came along. Subway was not a young company in terms of years, but it was in its infancy in terms of the number of restaurants that were around. At the time there were about 1,400 Subway restaurants. Today there are more than 40,000.

What made the opportunity for Subway so attractive that you wanted to dive in head first?

From my perspective, running a business is like teaching and coaching, which is exactly what I wanted to do but through a different platform. Plus, I was partially motivated to take advantage of the opportunity because it was my dad’s dream. I figured at some point you’ve got to jump in and take a shot. It was scary, but I believed in my efforts and that I’d work hard.

What do you hope for your daughter in her career? Has she caught the entrepreneurial bug as well?

She wants to take the business someday! I hope she does something I’ve never thought of. If she wanted to be a manager of a Hilton Hotel in outer space, I’d be excited for her. I tell her to chase her passion. If you figure out your passion, then that’s always what you should chase.

What are some of the characteristics you look for in a good hire?

Yes, we’re in food service. But realistically, we are in the people business and are serving food. We aim to find people who are outgoing and personable and empathetic. It’s about great guest service and quality food. To find the right people you have to ask the right questions in the interview. If you just ask, “Why do you want the job?” or “Will you work hard?”, you won’t always get the answers.

Do you have a favorite interview question?

My favorite question is a two part question. I think everyone has a point in their life where things go very well – for whatever reasons it’s the best time of their life. And conversely, there’s time that doesn’t go well at all. Talking about those two things, you can tell who is able to open up and make connections with other people and listen and ask the right questions. We can give average service all day long, but what it really comes down to is outstanding customer service. And in order to do that you have to have the right people.

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn.

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