Friday, December 08, 2006

Like father, like son?

With the volume of executives who've moved from Dallas-based Brinker International to Phoenix-headquartered P.F. Chang’s, some industry wags have taken to calling the Asian-chain operator "Brinker West." From Chang’s CEO Rick Federico to president Bert Vivian and director Lane Cardwell, there have been enough defect-ees to wear a footpath between the casual-dining giants.

Now the overlap is spreading to a second generation. Yesterday, Chang’s named sports marketer Tim McDougall as its chief marketing officer. He earned that responsibility by heading the marketing operations of pro basketball’s New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets. But his new employer must hope he’s inherited some restaurant acumen, too. He’s the son of Ron McDougall, Brinker International’s former CEO.

Not coincidentally, the elder McDougall rose to that post through marketing, serving under Norman Brinker when both were at Pillsbury. Ron was Norm’s second in command throughout the formative years of Chili’s and their early subsidiary concepts, Macaroni Grill and On The Border.

Theirs is hardly the only family affair in foodservice. The Hislop family’s boys, Mike and Steve, both formerly oversaw chains (Il Fornaio and O’Charley’s, respectively). John Metz built a sizeable contract-management concern before becoming a T.G.I. Friday’s franchisee, and son John, Jr. is part of that business now, too, after opening some fine-dining restaurants in Atlanta. Former IHOP marketer Steve Pettise was followed into the business by his son, as was Rich Hohman, the late one-time chief of Country Kitchen. And, of course, there are the Marriott boys, Bill and Dick.

For an industry that supposedly dehumanizes people with the baseness of its work, foodservice certainly draws a lot of individuals who have plunged in after watching their parents or siblings toiling in the trade. They know exactly what that career track holds, and they chose the life nonetheless. Detractors call it a dead-end field, but clearly they're missing what people-in-the-know readily see. Why else would they follow in a close relative's footsteps?

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