Erwin Reid (BBA, Management '83)
Sell More Chikin
Alma Mater Helped Alum Hatch a Great Career
In the sweltering 110-degree Dallas summer, sweat poured from Erwin C. Reid under his Doodles the Chicken costume. As a junior at Augusta College on a 1982 summer internship, Reid was the featured attraction as he cruised to a local movie theater in a limousine with the winner of a Chick-fil-A “Date with Doodles” contest.
The contest was just one of many marketing tools that Reid (BBA, Management, ’83) and the internship “Blitz Team” used as they traveled to low performing Chick-fil-A restaurants at malls throughout the country. In some stores, their efforts boosted sales by as much as 60 percent.
Now, as the company’s Vice President of Real Estate, Reid finds his efforts much more widespread. He’s had a hand in opening more than 1,000 new restaurants across the country.
“It’s unreal how much Chick-fil-A has grown, and I’ve been fortunate to be involved with it since it was a small, upstart company,” Reid said of the restaurant chain, which opened its first location in an Atlanta mall in 1967. “It’s remarkable to think that I’ve been able to contribute to its growth, and it all started with [my alma mater].”
Reid’s choice of college and, ultimately, his 35-year career with Chick-fil-A both happened because a bright-eyed teenager, fresh out of high school in Fort Campbell, Ky., came to Augusta to visit a friend. One week turned into two, and before long, he was searching for a job so that he could stay indefinitely.
So in 1978, Reid took a part-time job at the Augusta Mall Chick-fil-A, where he cooked, cleaned, and worked the counter. “Pretty soon after getting used to living on my own with my buddies, I realized I needed to get my act together and start school. I loved being in Augusta, and Augusta College was the logical choice,” Reid said.
He liked the size of campus and classes that were small enough to foster meaningful interaction with his professors. So Reid spent five years balancing college with a 50- to 60-hour workweek at Chick-fil-A. His schedule didn’t allow time for extracurricular activities, but most Sunday afternoons were spent on campus studying in Reese Library, thanks to Chick-fil-A’s policy of not operating on Sundays.
Reid’s five years working behind the counter at the Augusta Mall paid the bills, but he also enjoyed the work and the extra responsibility given to him through the summer internship and winning a one-year Chick-fil-A scholarship, which motivated him to stay his course.
In February of his senior year, Reid drove from Augusta to Atlanta in a snowstorm to interview with Bubba Cathy, son of Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy and the company’s Senior Vice President, for a position in the company’s career development program. He got the job. “My last quarter of college was nice knowing that I had a career starting right after graduation,” Reid said.
He spent two years as a district manager in the operations department before settling into real estate. Chick-fil-A’s restaurants were then limited to mall food courts, where Reid learned the ins and outs of mall lease negotiations. In 1986, the company opened its first stand-alone restaurant,and Reid’s responsibilities, as part of a two-man real estate department, grew along with the company.
That growth extended overseas in the 1990s, when Reid helped establish Chick-fil-A’s International Division. The division focused on Latin America, where no restaurants opened, and then post-apartheid South Africa, where Reid oversaw three restaurant openings. However, the country’s economy was still in turmoil, and those restaurants, and ultimately the division, were short-lived. The experience taught Reid valuable lessons to bolster the company’s growth strategy.
“We realized we had a long way to go in the U.S., and although international growth sounds intriguing, we found that it takes four or five times the amount of money and time that you think it will take before you start,” Reid said. “It was a great learning experience for all involved.”
Today, as the Vice President of Real Estate, Reid heads a 30-member team and oversees growth strategy and its execution for Chick-fil-A nationwide. His focus is finding new markets with significant population growth and a healthy business atmosphere with nearby shopping, bustling daytime population, and residential development. Reid’s ability to execute the company’s growth strategy is enhanced by his years of experience as a frontline team member and district manager, said Reid’s colleague and friend of 35 years, Tim Tassopoulos, Executive Vice President of Operations.
“Erwin has a winning combination of experience, judgment, and business acumen,” Tassopoulos said. “He’s not only strategic in real estate, but he also brings perspective from the front-line customer service standpoint and not just what’s good forcorporate. That’s incredibly valuable.”
When Reid started at the Augusta Mall Chick-fil-A 35 years ago, the company’s annual revenue was around $80 million. It now hovers around $5 billion, and Reid’s colleagues laud his role as part of the team that achieved that success.
“Erwin’s contribution to Chick-fil-A is dramatic when you think of our growth,” said Tassopoulos. “When he started, there were 70 or 80 restaurants and now there are 1,700. He’s been accountable for much of that real estate.”
And Reid sees a lot more expansion in the near future.
“We’re opening more new markets in the next four years than we ever have. We’ll pretty much be in every state besides Alaska and Hawaii by 2017,” Reid said. Chick-fil-A restaurants currently operate in 39 states. Reid also thinks that at some point, the company will use lessons learned to revisit the international stage. While Chick-fil-A has grown tremendously, Reid also has come a long way since his days moonlighting as Doodles, the company’s original mascot which was replaced in 1995 by cows convincing customers to “EAT MOR CHIKIN.” Augusta College, Reid insists, paved the way.
“[My alma mater] has afforded me the type of career that lots of people from the finest universities might dream about,” Reid said. “With a goal of education and a vehicle of hard work, you can accomplish things beyond your imagination without going to the most expensive school in the country. I got a great education while working behind the counter at Chick-fil-A.”
Written by Paula Henley