Ralph Bower 10EMBA knows a lot about persistence. His first job in the restaurant industry, as a manager-in-training in the late 1980s, paid him a legal rate of $4.75 an hour. “I like to boast that it took me only six months to work my way up to $5.25 an hour,” he laughs.
These days, Bower is still moving up. After four years as chief operating officer for Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, he was promoted in March to the newly created position of president of Popeyes’ US division. Bower now leads the daily operations of the more than 1,600 domestic Popeyes restaurants—the second largest chicken quick-service restaurant (QSR) in the country.
“There are not that many industries where so many folks can start off as hourly employees and work their way up,” Bower says, adding that this type of mobility is what drew him to the restaurant industry following his graduation from Annapolis and a five-year stint as a US Navy officer. “There are dozens of stories I can tell of team members who started off washing dishes and ended up becoming franchise owners,” he continues. “If you work hard and do the right thing, you can rise to any position.”
Bower grew up in New Orleans, where the first Popeyes opened 40 years ago, so his attachment to the brand, not to mention its flavorful product, runs deep. Bower says the chain enters its fifth decade stronger than ever and poised to expand.
“If you look at franchise growth for 2011,” says Bower, who now lives in Sandy Springs, GA, “there is no other freestanding brand that builds more restaurants on a percentage basis than ours does.” Doubling the brand’s more than 2,000 worldwide locations in the foreseeable future is an ambitious goal, but one that Bower considers attainable.
In 2008, shortly after taking on the Popeyes COO role and following more than a decade’s worth of executive management experience at two other QSR chains, Bower entered Goizueta’s Executive MBA program.
“Goizueta was a transformational experience for me,” Bower says. “It helped me understand the larger context of our business. I really feel like I’ve grown as a leader and as a business person as a direct result of my Goizueta experience—not only because of the coursework but also because of the relationships I developed with my classmates and professors.”
Those relationships continue to bear fruit. Bower has recently joined the Emory Board of Visitors, whose members serve as university ambassadors, promoting ways for Emory to further integrate its intellectual assets with community goals. The Popeyes chain is also used as a case study in Goizueta classrooms, and Bower has both spoken to students and invited them to present at the company’s main offices.
– Eric Rangus