As Herman Cain readies himself to play center stage — for the first time — at tonight’s Bloomberg Television/Washington Post GOP debate, the media has begun to scrutinize his campaign trail boasting about his success running Godfather’s Pizza.
Cain helmed Godfather’s, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., as CEO for nearly 10 years, and though he’s widely credited with bringing the failing pizza chain back from the brink, some critics have questioned whether he was more motivational speaker than hands on business chief.
In an interview published today in the Omaha World-Herald, Cain countered those opinions, saying he is a leader who can bring his business experience to the White House.
“I have to tell them that there’s more between these ears than pepperoni and pizza sauce,” Cain told the paper. “People who say I was just going out and giving the speeches and smiling, they have no idea how I manage and lead. I dipped down into the (Godfather’s) organization just enough to make sure I got my fingerprints on what’s going on.”
But Tim McMahon, Godfather’s marketing director under the pizza chain’s founder Willy Theisen, had a different recollection of Cain’s time with the pizza chain. He told the paper Cain “simply doesn’t register as a significant force” in Godfather’s rebound and it was instead Ronald Gartlan, the present CEO, “who provided the operational stability and focus on customer satisfaction over the long haul.”
Gary Batenhorst, an attorney at Godfather’s since before Cain went to Omaha, said both Cain and Gartlan had roles in saving the organization.
“Herman did some good things, but other people contributed to that as well,” Batenhorst told the paper. “Ron obviously had a very significant amount to do with things getting back on track. Herman made contributions as well.”
Former Godfather’s employee Spencer Wiggins, who worked with Cain at Burger King and then followed him to Omaha to work at Godfather’s, told ABC News last week that although failing franchises were closed during Cain’s tenure, his motivational handling of the turnaround brought the restaurants back to life.
Cain closed down low performing Godfather’s franchises as CEO, but he was able to “turn the ship around” Wiggins said. The company lost jobs then but, Wiggins said, Cain created more than he lost under his stewardship. He hired employees who wanted to be at their restaurants, were focused on customer service and didn’t just see the position as a JOB, or “just on board,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins believes Cain’s business success would make him a qualified president because “there is nothing superficial about him” and he’s always been humble, adding that if someone tells Cain he can’t do something, it just “stimulates him more.”