Jason Smylie | Crain's Las Vegas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jason Smylie


Capriotti's is a fast-casual restaurant chain founded in Delaware in 1976 and now headquartered in Las Vegas. The company is known for its handcrafted submarine sandwiches made with homemade ingredients and house-roasted meats.

The Mistake:

We weren't really hiring, firing and developing people around our company values.

We defined our company values as an extension of our personal values early on when we acquired the company 10 years ago, but we weren’t a genuinely values-driven company when we selected new franchise partners, and when we hired and reviewed and developed our employees. That was a mistake early on as we defined who were as a company.

It's important for any company to have a strong belief system — what it stands for, what the company values are. We hired employees and recruited franchise partners from experienced backgrounds in retail and finance. We, of course, had conversations on character but they were never focused on personal values, which led to issues with us having employees around longer than they should have been because they couldn't jibe with our values.

For example, one of our five values is genuineness. For us, that means being 100 percent real about who you are. When interviewing an employee you can really get a sense of who they are and what they've been doing, but you really have to uncover if they're putting on a face or if they are being fully themselves.

Some of our challenges have come when we've found people were not being themselves. We want to be around people who don't have to put a face on when they come to work and can be completely themselves [and share our values].

We weren't really hiring, firing and developing people around our company values.

The Lesson:

For us, it started when we read the book "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business" by Gino Wickman. In it, he talks about the "entrepreneurial operating system" and gives a complete set of tools for entrepreneurs to get what they want out of running their business. Living and breathing your company’s values is first and foremost.

When we really started focused on hiring and developing our people around our values, any conversation around performance was centered on whether they were aligned with our values. Any kind of performance issue we have with employees or a franchisee always tends to be a values misalignment.

Today, we emphasize the importance of our values in any conversation around performance. Any all-hands meetings with the whole company start with us reviewing our values and we give our employees the opportunity to tell a story of how they have seen someone really live our values. When meeting with new franchise partners we spend a lot of time discussing whether or not they're aligning with our values and that really helps us figure out if they'll be a good fit long-term.​

Follow Capriotti's on Twitter at @capriottis and Jason Smylie at @capriottisjason.

Photo provided by Capriotti's

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