Guest Post by Christine Specht, President and COO of Cousins Subs
In 1972, my father, Bill Specht, and his cousin, the late Jim Sheppard, opened the first Cousins Subs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The pair grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey and missing the East Coast style sub sandwiches, decided to open their own shop serving those classic subs to the Midwest. Two years after starting their venture, I was born.
Literally growing up with the restaurant concept, Cousins has always remained a large part of my life. The talk of many discussions around the dinner table led to the start of my involvement in the company at the age of 15, when I began working behind the counter making sandwiches, cashiering and working the register. After attending Marquette University for college and American University for graduate school and trying my hand at a number of various jobs including volunteering my time helping the homeless, I began focusing my career on human resources. When Cousins created their own human resources department, it was a natural fit for me to return home to my roots.
In July of 2007, Jim passed away, leaving the company in my father’s hands. It was at that time that he approached me about making the transition from human resources to president and COO. Though it was never in my plans to head up the company, and as a child I never thought of Cousins as more than an after-school job, I realized that things happen for a reason, and today, I couldn’t be happier in my new role. I’m confident in my abilities to lead this company into the future, as I not only have a steady handle on the culture of the business and the product we offer but I’ve seen what has worked and what hasn’t and I plan to use those years of observation to continue to grow the company.
Since I assumed the role of president and COO in March of this year, I have been focusing on restructuring the company and taking the basic steps needed to create a strategic plan for the future. Those steps include:
- Realigning my corporate staff and ensuring the right people are in the right places. This, like any reorganization process, requires many tough decisions, but we’ve had an extremely positive response thus far.
- Focusing on strengthening old relationships and building new ones within the company. Cousins has always been a family-owned business and that mentality extends from our most senior management positions all the way down to our franchisees and employees. It is wonderful to have a blend of tenured and new employees who can offer both proven success strategies and innovative, fresh ideas.
- Gathering my team for intense planning sessions. We now have a plan that looks out at least three years into the future instead of the more common annual outlook. Aligning goals, tearing down silos and creating a team-oriented culture focused on success have been huge challenges.
- Implementing intelligent, strategic growth in key markets and reworking the franchisee selection process. We aren’t just expanding for the sake of expansion; we want to make sure we have the right people. Cousins has always had an excellent screening process but now we’re being even more judicious about everything from cultural and social compatibility to real estate. It may make even greater challenges for us, but this strategy will make our system stronger overall.
I have seen this company grow for nearly 40 years, and in that time, we have grown to a chain of over 150 stores. We’ve expanded beyond the Midwest into California, Arizona and Texas and by the end of 2010, I expect Cousins to increase its numbers to approximately 220 restaurants in operation. Though this is a time of great change for Cousins Subs, one thing remains constant: I still want to emulate my father and what he’s done to build this company, make my family proud and lead Cousins Subs into four more decades of continued success.
Image: Cousins Subs, used with permission