- Posted by Action Catalyst
- On November 29, 2022
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- author, Business, CEO, employee loyalty, entrepreneur, goal setting, leadership, management, success
Mike McFall, Co-CEO of BIGGBY COFFEE®, the US’s third largest coffee franchise, recalls sailing around the world as a teenager and expounds on conscious capitalism, working towards being the eventual owner of the Detroit Red Wings (any day now), doing due diligence on yourself as an entrepreneur, determining your “Grind Score”, gut-checking your ego, why reading is fundamental, combating the Great Resignation, being a heretic to other CEOs, creating a “moonshot” for yourself, and emotionally connecting with your future.
Michael McFall’s journey within BIGGBY® COFFEE began in 1997 when he and his business partner, Bob Fish went on a now-infamous walk around Michigan State University’s campus. They were meant to discuss opening a second store with Mike as the manager. A couple of hours later, the walk ended with a handshake on the agreement of becoming equal partners to grow the brand, BIGGBY® COFFEE.
Mike’s story within the company originally kicked off in 1996, at the very first store, when he took a minimum wage job as a barista. He has since held nearly every position in the company, completing an astonishing journey from barista to Co-CEO. Mike’s cowboy-squirrel-like mentality and full array of BIGGBY® experience is what allows him to create authentic relationships with employees and Franchise Owners that are built on genuine understanding, credibility, and respect. Two decades into this remarkable voyage, Mike brings a unique personal experience to the company, having led BIGGBY® COFFEE through survival mode, stability, and aggressive growth.
In August 2019, Mike published the book, Grind, with the single purpose of helping entrepreneurs establish a positive cash-flow business. This book is built on his personal experience with the ups and downs of building a business, and Mike’s conversational approach to entrepreneurialism teaches people how to effectively improve their business. What better example of entrepreneurship could BIGGBY® COFFEE ask for than from one of the leaders who helped build the successful system up to where it is today.
Mike graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1993 where he earned four varsity letters as a member of the golf team and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. He also studied for six months at Fourah Bay College at the University of Sierra Leone where he wrote the life story of Johnny Smythe. Mike participated in the West Island College Class Afloat program in 1988 and sailed halfway around the world on a square-rigged tall ship, visiting 13 countries.
Currently, Mike serves as both a member and Forbes Contributor of Forbes Business Council. He also teaches on the subject of entrepreneurialism in his class ‘Finding Your Venture’ at The University of Michigan Center of Entrepreneurship and is a hockey enthusiast with a goal to one day own the Detroit Red Wings. When Mike is not spearheading BIGGBY® COFFEE’s newest business venture or writing his latest book, he can be found in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife, Elizaveta, and their children.
Learn more at Biggby.com.
The Action Catalyst is presented by the Southwestern Family of Companies. With each episode, the podcast features some of the nation’s top thought leaders and experts, sharing meaningful tips and advice. Learn more at TheActionCatalyst.com, subscribe below or wherever you listen to podcasts, and be sure to leave a rating and review!
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(Transcribed using A.I. / May include errors):
Intro: Today’s guest is Mike McFall, co CEO of Biggby Coffee, the third largest coffee franchise in the United States. Mike is also the founder of Global Orange Development, as well as the Author of Grind, a book which focuses on early stage businesses and how to establish positive cash flow. Mike is guided by a simple business philosophy of be brave, be humble, be thoughtful, be aware of others, and be. We hope you enjoy.
Dan Moore: Well, everybody, welcome to the Action Catalyst, where our guest today is Mike McFall. If you know not from the Midwest, you might not be familiar with Big B Coffee, but one day you will be. Mike, we’re so glad you’re with us today. Welcome to the Action Catalyst.
Mike McFall: Thank you, sir. It’s great to be here.
Dan Moore: My, uh, son and daughter-in-law got married near Depot in Ypsilanti, and I’ve had Big B coffee there. Oh, nice. Yeah, so very, very cool to to meet you here on the show. You know, Mike, you’ve had such an interesting.
I know you didn’t start off as an entrepreneurial mindset at all. You’re more involved in golf, I think, in your college days. Could you maybe share with us some of the most important pivot points that kinda led you from, from that point, sort of to this point, heading up such an important company with such a great philosophy?
Mike McFall: Thanks. You know, I, I, uh, I think one of the things that really launched me into my, into my, my career, my life, uh, I put the two of those, they’re, they’re synonymous, right? My career, my life, it’s all the same thing. And you know, one of the things that I, I was really for. To, uh, take advantage of when I was young was I sailed around the world when I was 16.
That was, uh, on a, on a square rig tall ship. And I’ll tell you, that set me off on an expectation around life being an adventure . And, and so I, I started with that and I, I just, you know, Really my philosophy and everything I do, everything I approach is I just wanna do interesting things. You know, I wanna wake up in the morning and I wanna have interesting things to do today.
I wanna, I wanna be involved in, in new concepts, uh, that intrigue me and that are interesting. And, and so yeah, I went through, uh, my, my early, uh, my academic career. I went to a. Liberal arts private college here in Michigan. Yeah, I played golf, uh, for, for that group. And then I, I left college, um, after a, a, you know, a, a pretty moderate career.
You know, I didn’t set any, any, uh, any, uh, records, uh, with my academic performance. But I ended up going to Houston, Texas and working as a straight commission sales rep. And, and I’ve always said that if anybody wants to train to be an entrepreneur, take a job as a straight commission sales. Because the concepts are very, very similar.
Uh, you wake up in the morning, you sell something, uh, you generate revenue, or you wake up in the morning and you don’t sell something and you don’t generate revenue. And, and to me, there’s so much truth in the concept of waking up in the morning as an entrepreneur focusing on. Selling something today, selling more today.
And, and to me it’s the backbone of success, of, of, of entrepreneurship. And, you know, my company, uh, big B Coffee, that’s my business partner and I, our mantra, uh, for over 20 years was we were gonna wake up tomorrow and sell one more cup of coffee tomorrow than we did today. Period. That’s what we did, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
And we’ve been focused on that every single day. Right? So, so when I started in the business, I, I started as a barista in our first store. I didn’t actually start the very first store. I started working for my now partner, uh, in that first store. We were selling under 300 cups of coffee a day. Uh, when I started in that one coffee shop.
And, uh, today we’re selling over a hundred thousand a day. You know, that was our focus, was just let’s sell more coffee. Right? That’s all we did every day. You referenced a really big pivot point, uh, for my business partner and I, uh, we were 15, 17 years into the development of the business and we really started to lose our, our inspiration around it.
Uh, we were materially successful. Uh, the business was growing, the brand was, was quite successful, but we were, we were lacking some passion. Around, uh, what the heck it meant to wake up every day and try to sell more cup of coffee. And, you know, it, it, it came to like, what’s the point? Why are we doing this?
What, you know, and, and, you know, for so many years at the beginning it’s just survive. Just build and survive. Build and survive. And, and then we had probably had this ongoing conversation for a. Couple of years around, boy, it’s just not feeling great anymore. And then I, I, we had this, I had this shaman in the woods moment, uh, where, uh, I was camping with my son and my brother at a very remote, uh, place here in Michigan.
And I ended up meeting a gentleman completely by happenstance who was very involved in something referred to as conscious capitalism. I got to know him very, very well. From that moment for forward, we hired him as a, as a consultant and. The end result is, is we still work with him. Uh, he’s still an advisor of ours.
Uh, and that conversation started with him and went all the way through to helping us determine and find the purpose of our organization, which is now what gets me up every morning. And I’m entirely fired up to go to work and do what I do now. What did become your reason for getting in the morning? Yeah, so, you know, one of the things that my partner and I have always loved about our business and our business model is that we’re a, we’re a franchise company, and so what we do is we support people in developing their businesses and developing assets that they can use and, and leverage to build their perfect lives.
The business itself is, is a tool or a mechanism to support them in, in fulfilling their dreams and, and living, you know, the life that they wanna live. And so, um, that was the beginning of a conversation where it was like, well, why don’t we do that with everyone we touch? Not just the franchise owners, but why don’t we make our purpose supporting you in building a life you love whoever you are in relation to, you know, however you come into contact with us.
So that would be employees at the store level, that would be customers, that would be vendors, that would be employees of our corporation, whoever it is that, that we engage. Our purpose is to support you in building a life that you love. We don’t wanna define what your goals in life are. We just wanna support you in getting.
You be you, and we’ll support that.
Dan Moore: I think that’s absolutely wonderful. Now, now, Mike, I’m sure along the way it hasn’t all been smooth trajectory toward a hundred thousand cups a day. What would you recommend to be a good reaction if somebody’s moving along in a good way and then all of a sudden, bam.
Mike McFall: Well, I think what’s really important is to understand that everyone hits brick walls and hits brick wall, heart hits ’em hard, , uh, you know, and there, I don’t know anyone that’s done anything significant in their life. They can’t tell you a whole bunch of stories of very difficult times in, in building what they’ve built.
And so acknowledging that, that they’re gonna things are gonna happen is just, I think it helps sort of soothe the, the shock of it all. The other thing, I’ve always advocated is when you keep your mind focused on the end objective. So, so the end objective in my world, since I’ve been 23 years old, professionally, has been to own the Detroit Red Ws.
Well, in order for me to own the Detroit Red Wings, I have to have a a b in my net worth, right? You don’t own a major sports franchise without, uh, having a really significant net worth. And so all my life, and I’m now 50 years. All my life, I’ve stayed focused on that. I conduct myself in a way that, that, that beacon remains a possibility.
And so no matter what brick wall I hit, no matter what pothole, you know, I blow a tire out on, I always continue to steer my ship in a way that’s gonna reach that end goal. And, and a huge part of that is just never giving up. Never giving up. And, and I’ve learned over, over time that when you to build something significant, you need to look at it increments of five to seven to 10 years, not increments of quarters or, or even single digit years.
Right. So, so for me to. Somehow have big B go off the rails today. I’m not gonna be able to replace Big B again quickly. It’s gonna take me a decade or longer to recover from that. So I better keep bigby on the right path and stay focused on the development of Big B. And so to me, keeping your, your mindset on that ultimate beacon of what you’re trying to accomplish in your life is what helps you get through the very difficult moments.
Dan Moore: You know what I love about that? If the beacon is bright enough, you can see reflections of it even over or around a wall.
Mike McFall: I like that. If I know that I have to continue staying focused on that beacon, the things that hit me day in and day out. Are they still, they’re relatively minor.
Dan Moore: If that beacon’s bright enough, yeah, they’re not gonna totally knock you off the tracks. You may feel a little bump, but you can keep. Now we’re really excited about the book, Inc. Original book called Grind. I know you tell a lot of your story in that book, but one of the things that’s really kind of curious, you talk about the idea of doing due diligence on yourself before deciding to start a business.
Mike McFall: Yeah. The concept there is that people spend an enormous amount of time doing due diligence on a new enterprise, on a new business. They study pricing, they study, uh, competition. They can, they study consumer behavior. They can, there’s just a laundry list of things and. Spend hundreds of hours doing due diligence.
They leave out the most important ingredient in the success of their new. Which is themselves. Have you done the work to understand how you as an individual are going to impact the business? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? You wanna leverage your strengths, you wanna supplement your weaknesses, but unless you know what those are, there’s no way to, to figure out how to supplement your weaknesses or how to leverage your strengths.
And so that, that’s this concept of, you know, doing the due diligence around who are you as. As a manager, who are you as a person? How are you gonna impact the business? And I put together something called the Grind Score, and it’s a, it’s a 24 question quiz that, uh, you walk through and answer. Every question is on a scale from, uh, one to 10.
And, and so in the end, the grind score will give you your, an analysis of your strengths, your weaknesses, and the idea is this isn’t an end bl list of whether you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur or not. What it is, is it’s meant to start a conversation about the areas that you might wanna take a look at, where you might need to get some assistance, and then the areas where you can leverage your own strengths to help grow the business.
Dan Moore: I like that idea of that due diligence on yourself, cuz it doesn’t matter what the opportunity is, you’re gonna be the one in it right now. A couple of other, uh, key points you talk in the book is one is about gut checking your ego.
Mike McFall: Yeah. Anybody that will say the words, I don’t have an ego. I mean, I will, I’m gonna run from that person as fast as I can because if you, if you’re gonna say the words, I don’t have an.
You are not self-aware because everyone has an ego, right? And so, but, but what it’s about is understanding the ego and how it’s playing in on you and your behaviors in relation to other people and the business itself. And so you’ve gotta be able to gut check that. And understand how it’s impacting you, and Im impacting the, the business itself and the people within the business.
And it’s not about getting rid of ego. The gut check is, is understanding it so that you can manage it so it doesn’t impact your relations and your business in a negative way.
Dan Moore: So that helps you avoid that, that CEO disease that you talk about. I’m the big shot. I’m the big boss now. I don’t need any help. Yeah. Kind of curious, do you have a morning routine to start your day besides waking up thinking about another cup of coffee?
Mike McFall: My morning routine is, I read. I just read. That’s my, that’s my moment. And I, when I can’t, I, it, it sets me off in a, in a weird way. Uh, so I wake up and I’ve always got something.
I’m in the middle of reading. Uh, so every morning I wake up and I make a cup of coffee, and I’ve got my spot in my office at home where I sit and read and I read for an hour, hour and a half. And then I go make my wife coffee, and I take her a cup of coffee, and then I launch into preparing for the day.
And usually my kids are getting up at about that point. I’ve got four kids. So, uh, my life’s a little. I’m working on my second book right now and, and a big section of, in my, it’s a book on management leadership, and a big section in that book is about how leaders need to read. There’s so much great stuff out there in the world that the smartest people in the world have written, and I don’t understand why people don’t engage that more aggressively.
Dan Moore: Years ago, somebody gave me a copy of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I started plowing through that and it got deeper and deeper and deeper. And I said, I’m trying to read this thing like it’s a novel. This is not a novel. This is a workbook. Yeah. If I backed up, got out the pencil, started making notes in the margins and rereading sections, rereading pages, how great work that moves this internally is gonna require that kind of focus.
Mike McFall: No, and a lot of people will pick up a book and read the first chapter or two and think they understand the book when most authors leave the more powerful content towards the end of the book, and so you’ve gotta read the whole thing. Let’s cut.
Dan Moore: Mike, you work with, I don’t know how many different associates you have in your stores. How many baristas, how many total would you say there are now in the Bigby network?
Mike McFall: Well over 3000 for. All pursuing a life they love.
Dan Moore: But we’re faced with this thing called the Great Resignation that has just happened where lots of people leaving their jobs, not going back. But what would be some ideas you’d have in this particular market about not only retaining, but attracting hand retaining great people that want to be with you for longer than just a JB period of time.
Mike McFall: Yeah. Right. So first of all, there’s no short, in my opinion, there’s no short fix. You know, I, I hear managers and, and leaders talking about pay rates and, you know, you can pay somebody a dollar, an hour more. It’s not gonna make a bit of difference in the world, in my opinion. The concept that I’m advocating and that I’ve been writing about, uh, I wrote an article in, uh, Forbes about it just recently, which is that we need to, as leaders and managers, we need to.
The investment first in the employee, and then they’ll determine whether what we’re doing is worth their loyalty. And if we make the investment first and we’re up to great things within our organizations that they believe in, then they’ll choose to become loyal and commit themselves to our company and to our purpose and to our cause of what we’re, uh, of what we do day in and day out.
And it’s just flipping the equation around. It used to be, You know, as an employer you would offer somebody a job and you would offer them some dollar amount per hour to show up to work, and you expected loyalty. Well, I just gave you a great job, so you should be loyal to me because I offered you this great job.
And I that is, that is transitioning now where people are looking for more. Out of an employer and out of a a, a company than just simply some dollar per hour and a few benefits and so on. They’re actually looking for the company to invest in them as people, as individuals. Invest in their growth. It’s what we were talking about earlier, investing in their growth and supporting them in building a life that they love.
And then they will, in turn, become loyal to the organization and then they will in turn talk to their network and their friends and, and, and their, and their people. Which will help you attract more people. So, so to me, we really need to take a long, hard look at what it means to be a manager and a leader.
And the other thing I advocate is we need to develop our environments within our companies as nurturing. And supportive places where people leave work more invigorated than when they showed up. They go home feeling better than when they got up in the morning. What we need to create is we need to create loving, supportive, nurturing environments for people to show up to.
And I would argue that the great leaders over time, less, you know, hundreds of years, the great leaders created these kinds of environ. We just didn’t talk about it, but that’s what made them great leaders.
Dan Moore: I’m sure when you talk to other business CEOs, they think you’re talking heresy. Totally. Total heresy. Invest. First you outta your mind, Mike, what are you thinking?
Mike McFall: Yeah, but I’ll tell you the idea of labor being a transaction. Is where it’s flawed people and relationships are not transactions. Once you understand that, then you understand the concept of investing first. Creating environments that are nurturing, that are supportive, uh, that are loving this stuff is, is, you know, again, I, I would argue all day long that great leaders have always done it. They’ve, we’ve just never called it, we’ve just called it great leader.
Dan Moore: You really view it as, as a compact, really not, not a expectation. It’s a compact. If we help you develop the skills that you need for the life you love. You’re gonna give back the loyalty, the focus, the energy, and, and making our customers life happier when they pop in to get their cuppa for the day.
Mike McFall: Yeah. And we, we do a lot of work around creating the future with people and for people, and that means at times that people opt out. They’ll decide they wanna go open a cupcake store in Traverse City, Michigan, which, which has happened to us. And we pat ’em on the back. We tell ’em, Hey, listen, uh, whatever we can do to support you, we, we thank them for their time and their energy and the service they gave us over the years they were there and out the door they go.
And, and like you said, a lot of managers would say, that’s heresy, but here’s the magic. When you go through this visioning process with them and they create this concept for the future, And they’re including your company in that that person becomes a superhero. That person becomes like just this incredible, like you wanna show up to work and work with that person every day because they’re so fired up to be there and they, and the company is part of their life that they love in the future. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Dan Moore: It sure is. We work with college students in our business and the majority of them don’t stay with us for a career, but we take such pride in calling them Southwestern alumni. So I think we have very similar shared philosophies there.
Mike McFall: Well, we graduate, we call it graduate. We graduate baristas. I mean, you know, at pretty significant clip every year. Think of the power we could have when we’re graduating thousands of baristas every year into the. Imagine if we have them for a year or two and the positive impact we can have on them in that year or two. But imagine how that magnifies over two decades. The power of that.
Dan Moore: You throw one stone in a in a pond, you’re gonna get some ripples. You throw a thousand to 2000 a year in a pond, you’re gonna get a lot of ripples and they’re gonna change the world over time. Right. You know, Mike, a lot of our listeners, their lives right now, our lives, they love things are going in a great way for them.
Got some other listeners though, that are, are kind of stuck right now. You know, what would you recommend to somebody that just doesn’t know what to do? They’re, they’re stuck either personally, financially, business wise?
Mike McFall: Well, what I believe, you know, if I’m stuck in hearing this, I might. Might look at this a little jaded, but I’ll just tell you my philosophy.
My philosophy is that we need to set what we internally in my organization refer to as our moonshot. You need to set that, that ultimate objective, that ultimate goal. Uh, you know, Michael Gerber calls it the primary aim out of the . The, um, Collins refers to it as the big hair audacious goal, right? These things that are like, and.
You first have to get really intimate with what is it that you want, and, and then detail that, what that’s going to be like in the end. So for me, like when I talk about owning the Reds, I have. 10 points that are very specific about what my life is gonna be like when I own the Red Wings. And so I talk about climbing the the jet walk to get on the airplane to go to ro road games with the team and smelling the jet fuel and high fiving the trainers.
I get on board the plane, I talk about raising. A banner into the rafters of, of the arena here in Detroit with the ICH name on it because they built this organization, right? That’s the current owner. I, there’s all these amazing details, but see what that does is it that allows you to emotionally connect with that future.
Whatever that future is, you’re emotionally, spiritually connecting to it. And then when you dial it back into your current day to day, the circumstances that you’re in today start to feel less binding and less relevant because you’re emotionally connecting to. This amazing future. And so, you know, I deal with all kinds of awkward things in my day, daily life of managing this business, right?
Of course I do. But they never get me down. They never impact me. They, because I mean, I could. Wake up today and be very frustrated over a laundry list of things in my life that are, that are difficult, but I’m all fired up about that first road trip I get to go on as the owner of the Red Wings. Whenever that happens and that gets, keeps me going.
I, I have this other vision. When I’m seven, I think it’s 75 years old, I’ve written a vision that I’m in Orlando or Vegas in a huge ballroom and I’m, I give my last keynote address to the Big B Nation and I’m retiring, and I, I give this my last address and I go and I sit down and I just got chills thinking about it, that there’s 10, 12, 15,000 people in the room.
And I know that I have contributed to those people living a life that they love. That to me is, I cannot wait for that day. Put an end cap on it. So I just got chills like that. But that’s that beacon. It’s that thing that is so powerful for you as a person, right? And, and if you don’t have that, I think that it can become, that your day to day can become very difficult and you’re, you’re letting the circumstances of your life today dictate your life going forward.
As opposed to attaching to a future reality that you’ve created and then living into that today so that that will manifest itself down the.
Dan Moore: Mike, this is totally inspiring cuz it’s not only about the big vision. Talked about having details, really visualizing specific moments, specific events, specific things that’ll happen when that occurs because that helps us get past the muck that we may be surrounded by now. Realizing that Beacon is strong us forward in such a good way.
Mike McFall: Never give up. You’d never give up. Right. And, and you know, I think a big part of never giving up too, though, is never becoming complacent. And I’m not gonna become a billionaire by doing what I’m doing every single day today. Right. I gotta take risks.
I gotta keep rolling the dice, I gotta keep investing, I gotta keep going. Otherwise, I mean, it’s, you know, it’s not just gonna happen. It’s not just gonna automatically happen. So never getting up, but continuously doubling down, continuously going for it, and never getting.
Dan Moore: Time with you goes really, really fast. Mike, I hate that we have to call this to an end. I wanna thank you so much cuz you shared more than business wisdom. You shared heart stuff with us and heart stuff is what’s so key. You have an unselfish heart, you’re a giver, and you built so much into so many people. And that’s gonna continue. I’ve only got one favorite ask. Please tell the wing nuts to behave when they beat my predators.
Mike McFall: Yes sir, I will. Thank you. Right, thanks. Take care.