On Sept. 11, 2001, Bob Lepore, then a New Jersey firefighter, was one of the many first responders who went to help at Ground Zero. "One of the things that I learned is that life is short," he says. "It's not given to everybody."
Even before that day, though, he was inspired by his years in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) to approach his work with a desire to help others.
From 1961 to 1968, Lepore fought in Vietnam as a member of the USMC. After the war, he spent nearly 35 years as a firefighter before becoming a sales executive for Starwood and Hilton hotels in South Carolina.
But it wasn’t until recently that Lepore was able to use his military experience in the entrepreneurial world. For the last two and half years, Lepore has been the franchise owner of a Firehouse Subs in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
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"I think my military experience gave me discipline, neatness, organization and probably a lot of my personality," he says, "which all go hand in hand in running the business."
Lepore says the opportunity to own a Firehouse Subs presented itself when he walked into a location shortly after his retirement from the fire service. "I looked around and everything felt like home," he says.
A common thread for members of the military is an impulse to help others, Lepore says, and being involved with a company that makes that a priority allows him the chance to continue to support his neighbors. An integral part of the ethos of Firehouse Subs is the The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which provides support for the purchase of life-saving equipment, educational support for members of the military and disaster prep and relief.
Lepore, who will also host a Toys4Tots gift drive this holiday season through the restaurant, says "giving back to the community is part of me."
To be an effective marine and firefighter, you need to be organized.
Now, Lepore's skills are now used in a slightly unexpected way. While running his franchise, he makes sure that the schedules of his college-age employees allow them to fit in all of their schooling.
Lepore says that like in a military unit or a firehouse, one of his number-one priorities is building camaraderie amongst his staff. He looks to extend the same warm welcome to his employees he felt three years ago when he made his first move to become a franchisee. "I feel like I'm part of a family," Lepore says.
Cleanliness is paramount in the military, and Lepore explains that Firehouse Subs has very specific guidelines for its uniforms and stores. “Keeping your equipment well maintained is no different than keeping your rifle or fire equipment well maintained," he says. "It will save you time and money in the end.”
4. Chain of command
A consistent chain of command was something that Lopere says he always valued during the course of his career, and it was something that he wanted to implement when he became a business owner.
“All team members are taught a very specific structure from the beginning to avoid any miscommunication or confusion," he says. "I do not overstep my general manager, nor do I allow my shift leaders to break the chain. I make this very clear to all employees so we maintain consistency in our day-to-day operations.”