A Day in the Life

Food for Thought

Being on Arizona time may mean not worrying about daylight-saving time changes, but Mark Roden always minds the clock. The multiunit Subway and Cold Stone Creamery franchisee rises by 5 a.m. to work out before starting the workday at his home office. Since Subway's headquarters is in Connecticut, which can be two or three hours ahead, it's not unusual for Roden to have conference calls scheduled as early as 6 or 7 a.m. He also spends a solid 40 to 45 minutes checking e-mails from Subway, Cold Stone, their organizations he's involved with, his office staff, job applicants and more--all while eating breakfast. "And if my 2-year-old is up," says Roden, 47, "her breakfast, my e-mail and Barney are all going on at once."

He may now own 53 Arizona Subway restaurants and four Cold Stone Creameries, but Roden's path to multiunit glory began in 1987 with the sudden death of his father. Roden, then a grocery store manager, took time to examine what was important to him. He remembers, "The last time I saw my father, he expressed a desire for my brother and me to take a shot at owning our own business." As fate would have it, a year later, Roden's then-brother-in-law asked him if he was interested in purchasing a Subway together. Roden agreed and managed to expand to an impressive three units within 71 days. From there, he just kept growing (his partner has since left).

Today, Roden leaves home around 8 a.m. for the office in Phoenix. He takes his first appointments at 9 a.m., meeting with a vendor or supplier. On the few days a month he's blocked out to not have appointments, he uses the morning to meet with his direct reports, who must touch base with him weekly, preferably face-to-face. Roden may discuss a variety of matters in these meetings, perhaps sign a contract--he's the only one in his organization authorized to do so--or even conduct an employee review.

Once a month, he has a morning-long meeting with a core group of 12: his Subway supervisors, his HR person, his accountant and his assistant. With all his involvement with Subway and Cold Stone on the corporate level, Roden is often privy to new changes he can share with the others. He also tries to ensure they reach out and use him as a resource rather than avoid him when issues arise. "I view my position as philosophical," explains Roden. "I set the tone for what we want to be as an organization, how we want to treat our people. I'm fairly results-oriented, but fairly hands-off."

Roden likes to take his employees out or catch up with friends at lunch, but often relents to meeting with outside vendors. As the afternoon arrives, Roden is already focused on completing any business that might have to reach Subway before its East Coast closing time. Then, Roden shifts his focus to West Coast's closing time.

Roden has almost 60 leases, and one always seems to be coming up for renewal, so he often has to work with landlords on those deals. He also looks into travel arrangements for meetings, such as the Subway advertising meeting he's attending in California. In the afternoons, Roden also tries to visit one of his restaurants and actually work behind the counter. "I do that primarily to stay close to the brand, not because they really need me there," Roden says. After putting in some hands-on work, he ends his workday around 6 p.m., then returns home to spend a half- hour on e-mail.

Roden's schedule may seem relentless, but it's a big improvement over his first year of franchising--he only took three days off and even worked on Thanksgiving. "[On Thanksgiving, I] did pretty good business, but I learned that family is more important than dollars," Roden reflects.

When other franchisees find out just how big of a multiunit operator Roden is, there's always a similar reaction. He acknowledges his operation has allowed him to acquire a "certain level of income," but doesn't want to mislead others to think bigger automatically means better. "People are pushed into growth by a vision," says Roden. "But quality of life can be a really important issue, [especially] when you're growing."

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This article was originally published in the August 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Day in the Life.

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