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One of the first few interviews I conducted was with the founder of Edible Arrangements, Tariq Farid, who was also the CEO at the time. I loved hearing Tariq’s story and advice and enjoyed connecting him. Tariq stood out as one of the nicest people who I interviewed.

Not longer after, I interviewed Mike Rotondo, the CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Like Tariq, Mike could not have been nicer. Like Tariq, he shared incredible wisdom and insight. My interviews with Mike and Tariq were published on the same day in Thrive Global as part of my Lessons In Leadership series.

Not long after, as fate would have it, Mike left Tropical Smoothie Cafe to replace Tariq as the CEO of Edible Arrangements.

Here are some of the highlights from my interviews with Tariq and with Mike:

Adam: What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Tariq: Since starting my entrepreneur journey at a young age, I’ve run into plenty of challenges. One that has been most instrumental to my personal growth came when Edible had just started to really take off. The company was growing quickly and my lawyer said to me that it was time to list myself as the founder and CEO. Up until that point I thought of myself as a small business owner. I never paid attention to titles and I was hesitant because at the time I wasn’t confident in taking on the full CEO role. I was so young when I started the company, what could I know about being a CEO? I began interviewing many candidates for the position and throughout the interview process every single one told me how impressed they were with the company and how important it was that I would remain involved, because I knew more about the brand than anyone else and I’d be a great resource for them. After multiple interviews and hearing the same thing over and over, I started to see what everyone else did. I realized that a CEO is so much more than the title, they’re simply a passionate advocate for the brand they’re supporting. I was certainly that so I believed that I really was the best candidate for the position. I went back to my lawyer and had him list me as CEO. From that time forward I’ve had the confidence to empower the fantastic team around me and together we’ve been able to achieve success I never could have imagined.

Mike: Early on in my career, I was known for challenging the status quo – for pushing the limits of the franchise model for established brands like Wendy’s, HoneyBaked Ham and Arby’s. Over the years, I’ve learned that calculated risks are important, but they need to fit into the proven franchise model. Once you figure out the secret sauce, implementing the model consistently is key.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader?

Mike: I am passionate about continuous learning and self improvement. In 2017, Tropical Smoothie Cafe made some strategic hires to invest in the leadership of the brand. The expertise of these leaders, brings new competencies to the brand and I am learning more than ever. In the past six months, I have gained a deeper understanding of technology, legal, supply chain, and marketing because of the high caliber people we’ve brought on board. As I continue to learn from the team, I also recognize there is so much more I can learn to become the best leader for this brand. I have experienced many successes as a team member and leader throughout my career, but know the CEO role is far more than execution and primarily focused on leadership. I always look for any opportunity to be among other successful leaders. I seek other leaders out to learn from them ways to build the Tropical Smoothie Cafe brand and my role as a CEO to its full potential. The brand is in full growth mode and the potential is growing steadily. Jack Welch said it well, “Great business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

Tariq: Effective leaders need to know the business inside and out and top to bottom, so that they can understand the needs of their employees. Stepping into a leadership role doesn’t mean turning in the keys to the day-to-day operations. Staying in tune with what’s going on in the stores and what I can do to best set our whole team up for success is vital. I may be the CEO but I also know the basics of the business, right down to where the brooms are in the closet!

Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Mike: Great leaders focus on the culture, people and the customer(s) they serve. Culture: For Tropical Smoothie Cafe, our culture is built on our team’s creative spirit, ability to maintain strong relationships, and play-to-win attitude, which are present in all that we do. People: People are at the heart of our company. We invest in our people capital at the support center to meet the demand of our growth. We develop relationships that are founded on trust, doing the right thing and respect for the unique talents of our teams, franchisees and vendor partners. Customers: Our franchisees are our number one customer. We are committed to communicating to them frequently, focusing on their profitability and demonstrating that we care. In return, they understand and love the restaurant business, embrace the franchise model, and are passionate about delivering a uniquely Tropical Smoothie Cafe experience to the customers they service in their community.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to an audience of entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Tariq: Create your own business ecosystem — The more elements of your business that you are able to control, the more you are able to consistently deliver on your brand promise; Apple is one example of a company that has mastered this. Always be evolving — Frequently ask yourself, “If I were starting this business today, what would I do differently?” Then see if you can implement those ideas now. The 60%, 20% and 20% Rule — Spend 60% of your time managing and planning for the future, 20% reflecting on the past, and 20% maintaining the present.

Adam: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Tariq: Don’t chase money, it runs really fast! That was the advice my mother gave me, and it is as true today as it was then. As a young entrepreneur I often got lost in the numbers of the business. Numbers and cash flow are important, but nothing is more important than the customer. I’ve found that if you do the right thing for your customers and continually aim to please them, money will start chasing you. This customer-first approach and aiming to make our customers keep saying “WOW” has played a big part in our success.

The full interviews can be found at https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tips-from-the-top-one-on-one-with-tariq-farid-ceo-of-edible-arrangements and https://thriveglobal.com/stories/lessons-in-leadership-one-on-one-with-mike-rotondo-ceo-of-tropical-smoothie-cafe

Adam Mendler