Aslam Khan, CEO of TGI Fridays, a 53-year-old global casual dining restaurant with 900 locations in 60-plus countries, is a big fan of self-education.
“If anybody wants to be educated today, it’s not a big deal. Before you had to look for a school and mentor and you needed to be physically there. Now you can walk into your room and [access] anybody on any subject anywhere in the world,” he says. “Just the other day someone called me from France, he had read about me and asked me for help on something. I was able to FaceTime with him and help. That’s amazing.”
Khan, who emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in his 30s, came to TGI Fridays in April of 2017 with a background in running a franchisee-driven business having spent years as the CEO of Falcon Holdings Management (he still owns Falcon but an executive team is operating the company). Falcon runs more than more than 100 Church’s Chickens restaurants, as well as multiple Long John Silvers, Hardees and a number of other fast food chains.
For Khan, who watches 10 hours of YouTube videos each week to keep himself educated on leadership and other pertinent topics, CEOs can never get enough education on how to do their jobs better. The education doesn’t just start and end on the computer screen though, Khan spent the past year learning all about the people, processes, and finances of the Dallas-based restaurant chain. He traveled across the globe, meeting the people who were responsible for making the restaurants go.
“I’m not cooking. I’m not cleaning. I’m not purchasing food. I’m not making schedules. I’m not setting up the tables. I’m doing none of that stuff. I am in a people business and I got to know that business really well,” he says.
Tackling industry challenges
Taking on the role of CEO at TGI Fridays required Khan to understand the challenges facing the company itself and the struggling casual dining industry at large. TGI Fridays had gone through a number of CEOs in the last few years before hiring Khan. Moreover, sales in the casual dining industry have slowed down significantly and many companies are closing locations left and right.
“I’m not cooking. I’m not cleaning. I’m not purchasing food. I’m not making schedules. I’m not setting up the tables. I’m doing none of that stuff. I am in a people business and I got to know that business really well.”
To understand the challenges of the company, Khan went on his global tour and talked to managers, bartenders, waitresses, and members of the office staff alike. He tried to understand the hurdles that were preventing them from doing their jobs. “I have a habit where I can go to any desk and sit down and talk to people at their level. And I think that was a great help.”
For the larger industry problems, Khan is leading with optimism and trying to prevent a chicken little mentality from seeping into his company. “A lot of people when they hear rumors [about closures or slowed sales], they go, ‘oh my God! oh my God!’ My team knows it’s not ‘oh my God,’ it’s ‘we’re in it and we know [there are challenges].’” Plus, he is confident that the challenges facing restaurant chains like TGI Fridays aren’t as dire as they seem. “You have to sit down and see what are those challenges are and you break them down in parts. And you realize not everything is bad.”