Aslam Khan’s Plan for TGI Fridays: Transparency, Accountability
Courtesy of TGI Fridays
Aslam Khan is known to many as the successful leader of Falcon Holdings, a franchisee operation that sits near the top of the annual Monitor 200. But now he joins a new wave of successful franchisees turned franchisor leaders as he begins his tenure at the top of TGI Fridays.
Khan and his longtime CFO Giovanna Koning have moved into the corner offices and have begun talking, tweaking and lighting the path forward for the brand.
But despite the constant grim stories from casual dining, don’t call it a turnaround.
“Now, I don’t call it a turnaround, because it’s not really down. I just want to enhance the performance a little bit better for investors, employees and most importantly guests,” said Khan.
The first thing he set out to do was make himself available to franchisees and other leaders within the organization.
“I’m doing right now and for the last several weeks, communication alignment and building trust,” said Khan. “That’s what the franchisees were looking for.”
Koning said that was the first initiative for the financial side of the picture as well. She and Khan said they hope to bring franchisee thinking to the top of the brand and deliver exactly what franchisees want: profits and input.
“The brand is iconic, but it will only survive if we’re bringing profitability to the bottom line,” said Koning. “At an initial meeting, they said we need to put financial accountability first.”
It’s a lesson right from casual dining peers. When there isn’t transparency and accountability, decisions come top down and franchisees can get saddled with a bad decision or a big change that doesn’t make financial sense.
“They just want to make sure that there is a proper due diligence, proper steps done, that things are properly vetted and that there is financial accountability to ensure transparency,” said Koning. “Nobody wants surprises, they want to make sure that everybody is in the know and in the know in a timely manner. In the past, I think people were in the know but maybe not until the last minute, so they want to be in the know in advance and see the plans through properly. At the end of the day, we have to spend smart and we have to do things the right way to achieve the results everybody is looking for. Then with collaboration we’ve got a win-win situation in which we can move the brand forward.”
The office door is open on all things from sourcing and purchasing, IT and digital and how the brand does financing. And Koning said as they slice and dice the data, insights would flow down to franchisees as they come—daily, weekly and monthly.
“The focus is to get the right information in the right people's hands at the right time, that is the key,” said Khan. “There’s a lot of good things that are going on here, and the brand has made a lot of smart investments, we just need to capitalize on them.”
To Khan, who put Falcon Holdings in the hands of his executive team so he could focus on TGI Fridays exclusively, it’s back to basics with a franchisee-first approach.
“We wiped out the past, good, bad and ugly, we’re on a new mission here,” said Khan. “Being a franchisee for 40 some years, and being an operator for 30 some years, I’ve learned a lot. And I know when a franchisor comes to an operation.”
That means an upgraded menu and a laser focus on service and speed. He’ll also continue the brand push toward a bar-focused environment to drive margins up with more beverage sales and bring the brand back to it’s successful beginnings as a bar.
“My number one thing is hospitality, good product and a great bar,” said Khan. “We want to make our bar number one in America, and our food we’re working right now in our culinary department on upgrades.”
Also thinking like a franchisee that’s seen one too many brand watchdogs, he said he would de-emphasize demerits and look to celebrate what franchisees do well.
“Most of the franchisors mean well when they go and investigate the brand standards, but it can demotivate people. My main thing is that I want to celebrate all the good that is happening,” said Khan.
Next, watch for a rollout of a more robust off-premise dining solution, more modern remodels and an emphasis on urban locations where Khan and Koning hope the bar focus and elevated menu will help take market share and mind share back from independent restaurants; which are preferred among consumers in key attributes from quality to value, according to research firm Pentallect.
As for operating under the umbrella of Fridays owners Sentinel Capital Management, it’s business as usual. Khan worked with the private equity firm to turn around Falcon Holdings back in 1999. He then bought the company from Sentinel in 2005 in what Jim Coady, a principle at the firm, called “an outstanding transaction for Sentinel.”
Given that outstanding performance back then, Khan said he looks forward to moving fast on mission-critical initiatives and forging ahead with a strong, trusting capital stack behind him.
“The great thing is I trust them and they trust me,” said Khan. “All they said is, ‘Take it to the level you think it should go.’”