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Cheryl Bachelder Creates Servant-Leaders

By Brett Wilson | May 23, 2013

Cheryl Bachelder addresses Regent University's Executive Leadership Series.
Photo courtesy of Alex Perry.

"I don't ever have to beg people to listen to my story, because it's about food," said Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of AFC Enterprises, the franchisor of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Bachelder addressed Regent University's Executive Leadership Series (ELS) monthly luncheon on Thursday, May 23.

"But, the real story here is my precious, intentional parents," said Bachelder. "They intentionally raised leaders."

As the oldest of four children in her family, all of whom hold significant leadership roles within their respective business entities, Bachelder explained that her parents taught them core values as they gathered for dinner. It was there at the table that Bachelder learned positive, but "tough" business lessons; how to downsize companies, how to esteem education, and how to emphasize integrity over ambition.

"I think the only negative thing my dad ever told me was in my gymnastics class," said Bachelder with a laugh. "He said, 'I don't think this is going to work for you.'"

Dinner-time character lessons, infused with her foundation of deeply-rooted faith, are what Bachelder carries into her own business leadership practices. Now, in her role as CEO, Bachelder is known for focusing—not on sales or profits—but on her franchise-owners.

"If you want to be known for how you do business, then you have to do business well," said Bachelder.

Though Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen has experienced a 20 percent increase in profits since 2008, as well as a substantial gain on Wall Street, Bachelder explained that the true method of success in business begins by creating a culture of "inspired servant-leaders" within a working atmosphere. Bachelder achieves this by applying the "Popeyes Purpose and Principles" of listening carefully, understanding passion, being fact-based, and coaching and developing leaders in her business practices.

"And you can't just talk about it, you've got to work through this stuff with your people; this is a really high standard to hold your team to," said Bachelder. "And we have an important role in the industry."

Bachelder explained that 25 percent of the members of America's workforce began their careers within the realm of the restaurant industry. And just as the lessons Bachelder learned as a child from her parents helped her mature into the business leader she is today, she believes the principles learned within her restaurants will be the driving catalyst for developing purpose within her employees' entire lives. This, according to Bachelder, is as simple as an individual asking themselves how and why they work.

"Eighty-five percent of the people who I ask that can't even give me an answer," said Bachelder. "And that's not really exciting or joyful."

Though Bachelder understands that the method of servant leadership is sometimes misconstrued as "soft" or "too comfortable," she truly believes that success begins in an enterprise when leaders want to "win for the team," rather than for the individual.

"For me, this has been the first opportunity to be a new kind of leader in a new kind of work culture," said Bachelder. "And I consider it pure joy."

Visit the ELS website for more information about the series.


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