Rick Ueable: Local CEO investing internally, leading courageously.
Local CEO investing internally, leading courageously.
By Alison Bailin Batz
Long-time North Valley business Foods 2000, Inc.––recently honored at the Subway National Convention as among the top Subway franchises on the globe––was never supposed to make it past 1999. And that is coming from its co-founder and CEO Rick Ueable.
Rewind to 1983, when Ueable partnered with Ken Clark on Real Investments, a commercial real estate company that was met with great success nationwide––until the fallout from the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
“The Tax Reform Act changed the way real estate could be depreciated, which played a huge role in the industry’s infamous crash of the late ’80s,” says Ueable, who had two choices by 1989—cut ties with Clark and close up shop, as so many businesses did at that time, or dig his heels in and fight the good fight as a team.
Ueable chose to stand with Clark, and vice versa. But what would they do next?
“You could have knocked me over when Kenny suggested…sandwiches,” says Ueable, noting Clark got the idea for them to invest in a few local Subway locations after being seated with one of Arizona’s first-ever franchisees on a flight to San Diego. “We had exactly zero restaurant experience between the two of us, except for eating at our fair share!”
While skeptical at first, Ueable eventually agreed to take this leap of faith with Clark in late 1989, just as he was taking another leap––one of actual faith.
“By then, I began to really invest in my own actual Christian faith, including its teachings of servant leadership as a business model, no matter the industry. I thought if we could focus our business on its core principles, we would succeed, at least until we found our next venture,” says Ueable, who named the business Foods 2000 in a nod to the millennium because he couldn’t fathom still being in the sandwich business longer than that.
By late 1989, Foods 2000 pulled together a $450,000 loan (at 19 percent, notes Ueable) and purchased its first three locations. And even when their office only boasted a handful of employees, servant leadership’s principles of listening, empathy, commitment to the growth of others, and building community were at the forefront. To Ueable, the concept also meant rejecting the idea of managing in a silo, going so far as to report the company’s financials to all of his managers weekly to ensure transparency.
“Beyond transparency, we wanted to show our commitment to investing internally, so early on we developed a training program with the goal to empower them to make their own decisions, as well as to be accountable for them,” says Ueable, who has expanded the trainings over the past three decades to include life skills seminars, leadership boot camps and programs on professionalism.
Ueable also notes that listening to his team—especially those who work in the restaurants––versus simply bossing them around changed the direction of not only Foods 2000, but of Subway itself.
“I ran for an elected position on the North American Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC) for Subway in 2000 because I wanted to play an active role in quality control, logistics, and technology to help make our teams’ lives easier,” says Ueable, who served as the IPC chair and today on its board, helping oversee several billion dollars in Subway contracts, while growing his own business to more than 40 Subway locations and 400 employees statewide. As a result, Ueable was honored in 2017 as among the Most Admired Leaders in Arizona by the Phoenix Business Journal.
He also put his money where his mouth was when it came to showing his team how to be a community steward––and then some.
In partnership with fellow local franchisees interested in giving back, Ueable joined the board of directors for a newly formed local charity––Subway Kids & Sports of Arizona––in 1999, with the goal of helping children with disabilities and financial disadvantages gain access to sports, equipment, registration fees and more. Since its inception, Ueable has helped to raise more than $1 million in local grants and equipment for local children.
He also joined Partners in Action, a North Valley-based nonprofit that helps several orphanages, schools, medical clinics, and skills centers to empower people and provide hope across the Globe. Specifically the lead for all African operations, in 2010 Ueable and his partners bought (yes, bought) a 4,300-acre city called Bulembu in Swaziland, where they currently assist 1,200 orphans and hope to help 2,000 more by 2020. Beyond Bulembu, Ueable visits projects in Africa three to four times a year to ensure their funding and level of care exceeds expectations.
So what’s next?
“I guess I should probably see about changing our name one of these days––maybe Foods Forever,” jokes Ueable.
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