Passing the torch to the next generation of leaders

By Beth Caron

Earlier this year, Great Clips, Inc. announced the semi-retirement of its president, Charlie Simpson. Charlie will stay on part-time as an Executive Adviser, focusing on executive development and providing input on strategic issues. He will also serve on the Great Clips, Inc. Board of Directors.

Charlie has a long history with franchising, performing various executive roles in operations and sales with the parent company of 7-Eleven convenience stores. He and his wife have also owned and operated two separate franchise businesses, including two Great Clips salons in Dallas.

He came to work at the Great Clips corporate offices in 1999 as the Vice President of Franchise Development. We asked Charlie to share his thoughts as he looks back on his years with the company, what he’s learned, and what he hopes he’s leaving behind.

This is my third attempt to leave Great Clips. The first was 15 years ago when I notified [then Vice President, now CEO] Rhoda Olsen that I would be selling my two salons in Dallas because I had verbally committed to a new job in St. Louis. She called me on the phone. 

“Our VP of development is leaving,” she said. “Would you consider taking the job?” I said, “Absolutely!” I loved the company, I loved the culture and I loved the other franchisees. 

So my wife and I sat our two kids down the day after Christmas and said we were going out to buy them some really warm coats. Each of them gave us a blank stare. “But Dad, we already have warm coats.” 

“Not warm enough,” I told them. 

The second time I tried to leave was three years ago. I was ready to retire as chief operating officer. [Then CEO, now Chairman of the Board] Ray Barton came to me and asked if I would consider becoming president. “I need you to develop bench strength in the organization, to ensure the future of the company,” he said. I accepted that as a challenge and it’s been my job for the last three years, helping to hire and develop the future leaders of Great Clips—basically training and developing my successors. 

The ultimate test of leadership 

Leadership in the franchise business is the ultimate test of leadership because it’s a matter of influencing people, not telling them what to do. We talk about how to develop people, how to motivate people to do the different things we want them to do, and we certainly have great leadership programs.

Great Clips excels at developing people, but more importantly we have developed the right culture and the right environment. Collaboration is a key element of our Great Clips culture because a group of individuals will always make better decisions than the most talented individual. Motivated, engaged and positive people can basically overcome anything. If you have the right people on the bus and you allow them the freedom to explore the possibilities, to make mistakes and learn from them, they can overcome any challenge. That also establishes trust. 

No franchise organization can excel without trust and collaboration between the franchisor and the franchisees. A number of franchise operations have developed trust with their franchisees, but few have learned to truly collaborate with them. Our franchisees sit at the table. We really listen to their input. That’s where you shape a culture based on integrity, honesty and transparency. 

Building trust 

I truly believe that my successes at Great Clips were formed by having walked in the shoes of the franchisees. Many in our management team have either owned their own business or franchise or worked at another franchise company. Everybody in the organization understands that our business only thrives if our franchises are profitable. That understanding is a foundation of Great Clips’ success. 

So here I am, ready to retire again. My wife and I are remodeling a house in Arizona, where we’ll be close to our daughter, son-in-law and three grand-children. My son and his wife live in Texas. 

I will still be part of Great Clips as a member of the Board, but I will miss the people—you find out at a certain point that relationships are the most important things you can have. I’ll miss the daily energy that comes from the challenges of driving a business forward. We worked for years, building the infrastructure. The next generation of leaders is truly ready to take Great Clips to the next level.

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