When Heather Ricks’ husband was ready to make a career change, she figured he could explore his dream of owning his own business and she could be a back-of-house support system. Little did she know that even with a background in legal headhunting and nonprofit fundraising, she would find her perfect role--running the top-producing catering program in the McAlister’s Deli® system.
Ricks and her husband opened their first McAlister's restaurant eight years ago when the franchise opportunity was brought to their attention as an exciting business venture. After extensive research, the couple knew McAlister's was the right fit. Ricks shared, “We wanted to work with a franchisor that was very guest-forward and family friendly with a component of giving back to the local community. At the time, McAlister’s was a new concept in our area, and we looked forward to building something that represented who we are and what we represented as a family.”
Little did Ricks know that she was joining a company that had fewer than five women franchisees in their system, but according to Ricks, that was never a deterrent. She found her stride right away, focusing on catering and community management. Quickly, her hard work paid off and she was the first female elected by the franchisees to the brand’s Franchise Advisory Council.
“It’s invaluable to have a variety of franchise experience on our Franchise Advisory Council. After seeing her dedication and the abilities she brought to the table, it was clear to the franchisees that having Heather on the committee was a benefit for the entire system.” Paul Macaluso, President of McAlister’s Deli continued, “We have always welcomed females into leadership roles in our corporate office, and we would hope to see that trend apply to our franchise restaurants, with people like Heather taking the lead.”
Since day one Ricks has felt her voice has been heard by members of the McAlister's team. “Being a female on the Franchise Advisory Council brings a different view to the table. I’m a small fish in a big pond. Being a small franchisee and a woman, I thought I would have to do a lot of shouting to get my message across, but McAlister's corporate wants to hear what everyone has to say and I think that’s why it’s such a successful relationship.”
This feeling is no accident. The franchise’s corporate team is listening to the voices of their system. They understand that all franchisee input can be instrumental in propelling the brand forward and if you’re elected by the franchisees to hold a committee position, it’s because of the value that you demonstrate, not a box that you check. “If someone is in a leadership role, it’s not by chance,” explained, Macaluso. “Everyone has earned their way, regardless of gender--that’s why it works.”
Heather’s focus isn’t on if she’s the only female in the room. It’s on creating her own path for success. While McAlister’s provides ample room for growth, Heather knows it’s what you do with that opportunity that makes you successful.
“Everyone always talks about climbing the corporate ladder and I've never been a big fan of that--it’s not your ladder I want to climb, it’s mine. So, I figured out what I wanted to do in the restaurant industry and built that ladder for myself and got a seat at the table. It’s important to find your own voice because that is what will make you successful.”