Exceeding Expectations

Grateful for what he's been given, Ronald Johnson works to give opportunities to others.

By Devlin Smith

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Wall Street and Harlem may seem worlds apart, but Ronald Johnson has no problem bridging the gap. Every day, the 33-year-old divides his time between providing banking services to power, energy, chemical and transportation companies, and overseeing operations at his Harlem Papa John's franchise.

Since New Majority Holdings LLC, Johnson's Brooklyn-based investment company, opened the doors to its pizza parlor last year, the entrepreneur has learned to walk a narrow line between his day job and his franchise. "It has really been tough," Johnson says. "I don't sleep much, [but] I think it's well worth it."

To open the franchise, New Majority Holdings worked with the Neighborhood Franchise Program, an initiative that brings franchises into low-income areas. The program provided Johnson with a list of participating franchises; Papa John's was one of the names on that list. "It was a franchise that wasn't in this market," Johnson explains. "I knew Domino's was making a killing and Papa John's is a very, very solid competitor to Domino's. It just made sense."

Johnson's day begins at 6:30 a.m., reading and answering e-mails, tuning into Bloomberg TV or CNBC for the latest market news and scanning the newspaper. Meanwhile, he reviews the previous day's DOR (daily operating report) for Papa John's and makes notes on what he needs to discuss with his manager.

Next, Johnson leaves a message with Ted Hamilton, his COO and friend of 11 years, highlighting some issues they should cover later in the day. A 20-minute bike ride is a must in the morning, as is a healthy breakfast (Cream of Wheat or a protein shake) and shower.

Johnson once again checks and answers e-mails and voice mails before leaving the house. During his 30-minute commute, Johnson reads The New York Times for financial and local news.

Johnson's typical day is dominated by meetings with clients and other bankers. During free moments, he calls Hamilton or the store manager to check up on the franchise.

At 7:30 p.m., an alarm sounds in Johnson's office, signaling that it's time to head home. Tonight Johnson will pick up his car and make a surprise visit to his store. "I don't like to be too predictable," he says. A few times, Johnson found employees' friends hanging around the store. "I had to end that quickly," he says.

When Johnson visits the store, he becomes an employee, paying the bills and talking with customers, checking on the quality of the food and service at his location. He takes part in all aspects of running the store except one: "I don't make pizza," he says. "I don't know how to make pizza."

Johnson eats dinner at the store, then there's a 30-minute drive home. He walks in the door around 11:30, picks out his clothes for the next day, pays bills and checks e-mail. Bedtime is around 1 a.m.

While working 18-hour long days and sleeping five hours each night may seem daunting, Johnson considers it the only way to achieve all he wants for himself and for the Harlem community where he was raised. As owner of the first Papa John's in the area, Johnson wants his store to change New Yorkers' eating habits from craving pizza by the slice to ordering whole pies. He's also glad about the jobs his Papa John's franchise, and the two more he's planning to open in the next year, is adding to the Harlem community.

"To whom much is given, much is expected," Johnson says. "I don't live in the community in which I was raised, but I think it's important to go back and show yourself as a role model." Doing this includes sponsoring baseball, football and basketball leagues, and schools.

And if a day does get tough, Johnson thinks of his 90-year-old great-grandmother, who worked three jobs to support her family for more than 30 years. "This woman gives me such encouragement," Johnson says. "Every Sunday I take her to church and just look at her and am like, wow, if she could do this in a time period when it was a lot more difficult, then I absolutely can do it."

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