The Fellows Meet the Founders – A Morning at Slim Chickens

Last Friday, Arkansas Fellows embarked on a journey to the Slim Chickens Corporate Headquarters to learn business from Founders, Tom Gordon & Greg Smart, as well as from C.F.O. Seth Jensen and C.M.O. Chris Allison. The Plan: meet with the Founders for the first hour, add Chris and Seth into mix for the second hour and learn as much as possible.

Slim Chickens’ Founders Tom Gordon (left) and Greg Smart (right) stand outside their first Slim Chickens location when it was their only location.

The Founders

Fellows arrived early, catching up and drinking coffee before Tom and Greg entered the room. Once Tom and Greg entered the room, you could feel the energy of the Fellows; we were eager to learn from these great business leaders.

The conversation began with us learning about how Slim Chickens was hatched in a garage with the Founders frying up chicken and mixing up sauces for their friends to test. We heard the early story of Slim Chickens, and the struggles they went through to get those first handful of stores open. I’ll share more about those learnings from the the Founders in a couple of weeks. Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

The Beach Ball

Enter Seth Jensen, the most outgoing CFO you will ever meet. Seth tells us his story of finding a passion for consumer-facing brands while he was starting his career in public accounting. Seth was able to give the Fellows insight into what it takes to be an effective intrapreneur. Seth implemented many systems over his various stops at different restaurant groups, and implementing change at any level is always hard. People are more dynamic than business plans. Queue his beach ball philosophy.

If you put a beach ball on a table in the center of the room, everyone would see a different color. The different colors on the beach ball represent everyone unique perspective. His philosophy: when you are presenting an idea, project or simple report, everyone in the room will see a different color. You need to consider that those people are not wrong; They just see the project or idea through the lens of their experiences and responsibilities.

Arkansas Fellows take a lunch break at the original Slim Chickens on Fayetteville’s College Avenue.

Building Yourself and a Brand

Chris Allison the CMO followed Seth, and told his story of working in the advertising industry. Chris had a goal to open his own agency, so he started from the bottom at two different firms to learn the business. Once he felt like he had a good understanding of the business, he started his own agency with a focus on emerging restaurant brands.

After completing a successful career in the advertising agency, Chris sold his agency in favor of a more relaxed consultant’s lifestyle. Fast forward a few years and Slim Chickens Founder, Tom Gordon, convinced him to join Slim Chickens full time. One of biggest takeaways the Fellows took from Chris’s story came in his hiring advice. When you are operating your own business and you want to hire someone, wait thirty days. After that period of time, the emotions come out it. Make sure the decision is logical and that you have a very specific plan for that person.

Chris also shared a presentation about the work they have been doing to build the current Slim Chickens Brand. As an Arkansas Fellow at Slim Chickens, I already some visibility into that work, but visiting Fellows got to see that a brand isn’t built overnight. Slim Chickens took time, and any brand is built through a long sequence of small strategic moves.

A Closing Word of Advice

After we finished our meetings, we broke for lunch, heading down Fayetteville’s College Ave. to the original Slim Chickens. The store doesn’t look like it used to when the Founders were behind the counter; we would learn touring the Corporate Headquarters later than day the original location was renovated in under a week to save revenue. Our final word of advice came on that office tour; Chris Patterson, Executive Director of Training and Development said, “Do the right thing at the right time.”

After all, that may just have been the secret ingredient to Slim Chickens’ success.