Sharing God and greenbacks
March 23, 2015
Vail resident Tom Barnett isn't exactly Robin Hood, but he's close.
Barnett received a black Corvette and gold Rolexes for winning the Burger King franchisee of the year award.
He sold the car and the watch, and more than doubled the money when he and partner Shelley Krispin kicked in $60,000 of their own money to give away $120,000 in bonuses to 100 managers and employees, ranging from $500 to $5,000.
When word got out about what he was doing, he was constantly asked, "Why would you do that?"
His response was, "Why wouldn't you?"
"My Christian faith calls on me to honor everyone, who I ski with, who I work with, my family, my employees. It's a way to say thank you," Barnett said.
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He points out that he did not clean up the restroom, he didn't work a double shift because someone called in sick — he decided this was a way to honor those who do.
"He didn't feel right keeping something he didn't earn. It was very emotional when he told us that," said Charity Callahan, who manages one of his Phoenix Burger Kings.
Barnett owns 24 Burger King restaurants in the Phoenix area. To win the award, the restaurants are graded on health and safety scores, customer complaints and white-glove inspection results.
Callahan described Barnett as "genuine, humble, kind and polite."
"He makes it a point to visit restaurants, shake hands and find out how his people are doing. He even learned Spanish so he could speak with his Spanish-speaking employees," Callahan said. "I have friends who work in other places and they have no idea who their owners are."
Barnett grew up in a military family, graduated the U.S. Air Force Academy, and was a fighter pilot in Vietnam. He says most of what he needs to know about business he learned in the cockpit.
He doesn't hire co-pilots, he said, only leaders who take ownership of their roles. He tries to treat employees like family.
He has been in the restaurant business for 35 years, and some of his people have been with him 25 years. The average tenure of one of his restaurant managers is 10 years, unheard of in the fast food industry.
Barnett Management promotes employees to the corporate office, including staff members who started in restaurants at age 16. He likes to say he's in the people development business.
"My job is to inspire and lead, then get out of the way and let them succeed," Barnett said. "After 25 years, we know what each other wants."
He's a skier, scuba diver, open wheel race driver and former sky diver with more than 1,000 jumps. He hung up his parachute when he started raising a family. His son and daughter are grown up now.
He still flies his own Eclipse, a small twin engine jet, to commute back and forth between Vail, Phoenix and about anywhere else he wants to go.
He's also involved with a small charter jet service based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Do that again
After six years in the Air Force and two tours as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, he was started his own management and consulting firm. In 1979, he spent everything he had to buy his first Burger King. It didn't make any money.
His friends kept badgering him with questions like, "What are you going to do? You're divorced, you're living in a one bedroom apartment and your restaurant is losing money?"
"I'm going to do it again," Barnett told them.
And he did.
That was 1984, the year Krispin signed on, and she has made money from Day 1. Krispin is the operating manager and handles the company's day-to-day operations.
In all his spare time he and a group of friends developed 24 restaurants called The Good Egg. They recently sold everything and are back in the burger business.
"I have an ethical and moral responsibility to treat everyone in a certain way. I've been inordinately blessed by God," he said. "Any success I've had I see as a blessing and the result of everybody else's efforts."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.