2 Key Ingredients to Culture at Nick’s: On Purpose

Part 2 of my recent guest post on the Talent Minded Blog is now available.  The Two Key Ingredients to Culture at Nick’s Pizza & Pub can be read here

Thank you again to Autumn McReynolds and the entire Talent Minded team, it was a pleasure working with you.

Culture Drives Every Decision: On Purpose

I am honored to have been featured on the Talent Minded Blog earlier this week.  My post, Culture Drives Every Decision at Nick’s Pizza & Pub, can be viewed here.  Keep your eyes open for part two next week.

As always, your own thoughts and opinions are much appreciated.

My Annoyance With Off Purpose Marketing

I recently had a discussion with a longtime friend, whom is well respected in the marketing community, Pam Murtaugh. I shared with her my discomfort when people describe me as a “marketing genius” for sending an email last September, naming for the community the financial state of Nick’s Pizza & Pub. The following is what I learned about myself through our conversation:

Pam’s Insight:  

“Marketing” is not what it used to be.  This is the result of the shift from product manufacturing to profit manufacturing: Granddaddies of the industry believed in “product positioning.”  Then it shifted to “brand positioning” and differentiation (other products based on gross attributes -nothing real).  It seems new marketing is out to trick people into buying something with just enough “quality” — just enough of an experience (enhanced and made “tangible” or exciting by branding) — to generate the predicted profit that will keep investors happy. 

(By the way, another thing that happened was that after the tax breaks in 1980, share-holders who accepted profit as variable — some years up and some years down — became share-*takers*, as in “what have you done for me lately?” and “promise in advance how much profit you will deliver — or expect punishment.” Even stating that, “profit alone is not enough….it has to grow rapidly, consistently and infinitely.”)

So “marketing” is now the business of making false promises. Marketing has become a left-brain notion that generates profit without anything genuine behind it.  

Your discomfort with it is that you are real. Your business proposition is a human one — about people and products and jobs and communities. In your email you reached out for empathy (right brain) and people returned it in kind.  You confessed to being human and people embraced you for your human-ness.

My Learning:

I am not a marketer.  I am not a “marketing genius”.  In fact I’ve come to understand that what I do is the opposite, because marketing as we know it today has become a world of false “brands” and “strategies” designed to manufacture profit.   

I believe in products.  I believe in making quality products that people love.  I believe in making my restaurant a place that people love to be — not because it “delights” them or meets their “desires” (new marketing terms) — but because it feels like a place where they can be themselves.  Where they can be together with their families and where their kids are free to be themselves. 

I believe in work (not “creating jobs” that are in service of profit).  I believe in a fundamental work ethic. I believe in encouraging people to work in ways that are good for our guests and good for them — with good pay, respect, opportunities for their own advancement and full knowledge of the business itself.  I believe in a workplace that’s focused on people who value what we make for them and how we make them feel. This is what I call good business, and good businesses are responsible for fostering strong people and strong communities.  

I believe that business has become a profit trap.  If I had gone into this with an exit strategy I wouldn’t be here right now.  If I hadn’t gotten back to what’s true — that the human connection makes Nick’s a special place — I wouldn’t be here right now either. 

I do not accept that I’m a “marketing genius” or that recent events have made me one.  I love that I have the ability to make people happy in very real ways.  I love that my guests and my team get something that matters to them.  When I do what I love in a way that works for everyone, I am profitable.  But profitability is not a goal — it’s the by-product of doing something real in a way that’s good for everyone.  

What are your thoughts of marketing these days?

The Choice to Build Something Great: On Purpose

If your company disappeared, would it leave a gaping hole that could not easily be filled by any other enterprise on the planet?

When I first heard this question, it really resonated with me.  It got me thinking in a way I had never thought of before.   It helped me discover my passion for building with the relization that, in a way, I have always been in the “building” industry.  I used to build custom homes as a carpenter… And now I am building a great company that has a positive impact on humanity that is sustainable by developing (or building) our team.   Sure I aspire to be like Richard Branson, and I realize it doesn’t mean I have to build something THAT huge to have a positive impact.   We could all start right in our own community. 

Which is why I have been drawn to Jim Collins books.  Although sometimes he is speaking to the really big corporations, I always find some really key take aways. This interview article with Bo Burlingham captures those take aways.

Let me know which of his 12 points make sense for you… or don’t.

A Slice of Core Values: On Purpose

I am truly honored to be a contributer on American Express Open Forum.  You can read my post here to learn more about the Purpose and Values based culture we have built at Nick’s Pizza & Pub.

Building a Compelling Company: On Purpose

As I learn more about why what we do at Nick’s is not so typical in the world of business, I grow more interested in ways I can share more of what we do.  Then I met Jon Goldman, a marketing guru, and we started talking about what differentiates our companies.  After a tour of the whole restaurant including our training systems that we have built out over the years,  he shared his amazement by excitedly stating, “Nick, you have to share this with the world!” His statement didn’t just disperse into the universe.  It evolved into the Compelling Company Seminar.  This became our first step into this journey and an exciting one!

I have to admit though. Growing personally and professionally doesn’t always unfold as you would or could have predicted. The opportunity is for each of us to have an open mind, an open heart, and an open will. 


Philanthropy: On Purpose

What is philanthropy and with all the great causes and people that need help out there, how can we choose a cause to support and how much can we give?

This Thursday, April 26th is the 8th year we are hosting one of our benefits, wherein 100% net proceeds benefit the Children’s Autism Center, which is now formally under the umbrella of the Pioneer Center in Crystal Lake. I started my company on a shoestring budget, and as I became profitable I realized that I wanted to find something positive to do with my profit, and that I wanted to show my gratitude to the people who were supporting the success of my company. So in the beginning, I didn’t have a clear system, I would just write checks. Which was fine to an extent, but it meant that I would always need to be there and make the final decision. Then we defined who we are. Once we articulated our purpose and our values, it allowed our whole team to understand the process and have a common goal to work towards. Additionally, I didn’t have to be there to make every decision and cut every check.

What unfolded over the next year was that we also developed a budget (5% of annual net sales) and integrated our giving back to our community into our business model. As we looked to mesh who we are into an advertising system, we realized that advertising was not us. We decided that if we needed to get the word out about Nick’s Pizza & Pub, we would do that through the community and with the community. We would open our doors to the families in need and the organizations that needed to raise money for a cause in our community. The result is that we have an effective way for us to be in alignment with who we are. The crazy unexpected part was that the community was there for us when we needed support.

Yes, I have a special place in my heart for children with autism and the all the challenges families face on a day-to-day basis. I feel blessed to have found a way to make a positive impact and give our community an easy way to support this cause.

If you are interested in Marketing 101 Through Purpose and Values let me know or check out our Nick’s U.

Business Reading: On Purpose

What is the value of all these recent business books?  I am almost finished with the new Jim Collins book, Great by Choice and although I am finding that it gets better as I get further along, I can’t help thinking about the positive impact of Built to Last and how much I still love that book.


Maybe it’s because my college education only lasted one semester, but I love and value the business books that give me something that I could use or inspire me in building a great, lasting company.  By great I mean a company that has a positive impact in multiple ways, a company that has a positive impact with the culture and with the team, a company that gives back to the community, and a company that is profitable and sustainable for multiple generations.


I continue to be inspired by Built to Last and I’ve often thought about how could I give back to other entrepreneurs someday in the same way I’ve learned from some of these great business books.  What I have learned over the most past 10 years has been valuable in today’s business landscape.  I began a journey to build a great sustainable organization with a positive, explicit culture.  Perhaps the fact that I had a lopsided focus on the culture and lost sight of some fundamental fiscal disciplines is what almost did my company in last year.  However, it was the strength of the culture we built that saved us. Thankfully, I now understand the critical balance of both. It is important to be and stay profitable, and perhaps most important to keep an eye on the balance sheet and debt.  As Jim Collins says in Great by Choice, some healthy paranoia is a good thing, keeping  some sort of cash reserve on the balance sheet that you don’t sacrifice.  I realize this might be Business Finance 101, but it’s funny how often I hear the optimistic entrepreneurs like myself lose sight of this.


The other valuable lesson I have learned and what I find surprisingly unique is the ability to create an explicit culture and all the elements that support that. To borrow from Jim Collins again, the most important is defining core values for the company and purpose, or the reason for being.  This tenet is what Simon Sinek has declared as starting with the “why”  and also what Tony Hsieh indentified in his book, as a core to Delivering Happiness (check out pages 230-240 in his book). Although all of these writers mention this, none of them are explaining how, or what else supports this model.


At Nick’s, with the support of a slice team of the company, we have defined our purpose and our values.  And most importantly we didn’t just stop with that strategy, we support that model with a structure so that the strategy becomes culture.  The purpose and values are alive and vibrant in the culture of our organization, not just a piece a paper on the wall, or in a drawer somewhere collecting dust.


Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for 10 years, I feel this is a major opportunity for business owners.  Although defining the purpose for your organizations existence is an important first step, that is just the beginning.  The structure and systems in your company and the leadership behavior must support the initial roll out, or it will die.  If done well the result will be a huge amount of trust.

Here is a recent guest blog I wrote for Inc. Well. Please read and let me know what you think. How do you help build corporate culture?

Community Partnerships: On Purpose (Example)

Here is one recent example of marketing WITH the community.  It’s great to see another restaurant supporting one of it’s team members during a time of need.  And it would be even greater to see more businesses follow suit.