Warren M. Thompson, the President and Chairman of Thompson Hospitality, treated the ACG members and guests who attended the April meeting to an entertaining and informative talk about growing up as an entrepreneur and building a family business into a nationally recognized restaurant company and food service contractor. One of Mr. Thompson’s strategies for business success is to delegate responsibility and recognize achievement, so it was only fitting that ACG National Capital’s President, Greg Van Beuren opened the meeting by recognizing the efforts of the chairs of two very successful recent ACG events: Jason Kaufman of the Chertoff Group and Ricky White of Grant Thornton, who chaired the Strategic Growth Conference Committee, and Dara Castle of McGladrey and Leslie Grizzard Hale of RBS Citizens who chaired the Awards Gala Committee.
Following an introduction by Kirk Rogers of Grant Thornton, Mr. Thompson took the unusual step of starting his presentation by asking for questions from the audience. Specifically, he asked attendees what they wanted to get from his presentation. Members and guests asked for his insights on growing a family business, his thoughts on attributes for entrepreneurial success, his strategies for challenging employees and his views on future growth for his business. Over the course of his talk, he managed to cover all of those key points and more.
Mr. Thompson described his childhood in ruralVirginia. His parents were schoolteachers, and he and his father helped make ends meet by running several businesses on the side.
By the time he went away to college, Mr. Thompson had worked at raising hogs, delivering produce (including the purchase of a school bus at age 15), landscaping, pest control and managing a concessions stand. He enjoyed each of his endeavors and came to associate entrepreneurialism with the freedom it provided him.
When he came home from the summer after his freshman year he worked at the local hardware store. He was the first African-American salesperson to work in the store, and the owner initially prohibited him from ringing up any sales at the register. It didn’t take long for Mr. Thompson to realize that he would always be happier when he worked for himself.
After earning his MBA, Mr. Thompson went to work at Marriott. He advanced quickly through the managerial ranks, but he never lost sight of his goal to be self-employed.
In the early 1990’s, he started Thompson Hospitality by buying 31 Bob’s Big Boy restaurants from Marriott and converting them to Shoney’s Restaurants. The deal that gave birth to his business also cemented in his mind one of the tenets of his business philosophy.
He worked hard with all of the parties involved to make sure that everyone walked away from the deal happy. He has kept that model top-of-mind ever since, and advised those in attendance to be creative in the deal-making process to make sure that everyone at the table comes away feeling like a winner.
Mr. Thompson detailed several challenges and successes in his time with the business. As for those initial questions, he said that he learned a great deal about running a family business from his years at Marriott.
It’s not always easy, but it has been a great joy to share his success with his family for 20 years. He attributed his entrepreneurial success to his great love of the work that he does and the fact that he is constantly challenged to improve his businesses.
When it comes to motivating his associates, he hires carefully to make sure that those who work with him are willing to be entrepreneurs in their own right, then he delegates responsibilities and recognizes achievements. In terms of growth, he believes that Thompson Hospitality will move into facilities management in the next few years, as that business draws on some of the knowledge he has gained in foodservice but is less capital-intensive. He hopes to grow Thompson Hospitality into a $1 billion a year business in the next few years. Given his energy and his track record of success, you would be hard pressed to find anyone to bet against him.