How ‘CEO Disease’ Can Kill Your Company’s Culture



In 2014, Biggby Coffee CEO Mike McFall knew morale was crumbling in his Midwest coffee­ shop franchiser. The “midnight move-outs” were, for him, a red flag: Employees were resigning without even leaving a note. Plus, McFall and his co-CEO weren’t finding meaning in their work anymore. “Survival was no longer a question,” McFall says. “So what was the point of it all?” That’s when a chance encounter made him face some hard truths. —As told to Sophie Downes

I went camping with my brother and son in 2014, and we shared a fire pit with a consultant who was talking about conscious capitalism. I handed him my card, and he came and did a survey of our employees. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever read. People said things like, “It’s an abusive relationship.” I realized I’d built a wall between me and my employees. I had what I call “CEO disease.” I wasn’t open to feedback. I didn’t think I could be wrong.

We committed in front of the whole company to turning things around. We raised pay across the board and formed a task force to tackle community engagement. And we held weekly meetings, open to the entire staff, to define our purpose. We settled on “Supporting you in building a life you love” and developed a coaching program to help everyone–from baristas to office staff–grow personally and professionally. And I’ve made it a personal point now to shut up and listen when others talk–and to actively solicit feedback.

The transformation after those gut-wrenching conversations has been remarkable. Now we’re growing like crazy: We have 260 stores and 150 more set to open within 18 months. By the end of 2028, we want to be a billion-dollar company and have 90 percent of our workforce–projected to be north of 10,000 people–rate us a 9 or a 10 on our purpose.

From the November 2021 issue of Inc. Magazine



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