Award-winning CEO Todd Graves’ message to business owners: Find your one love and stay true



William Shakespeare coined the phrase “To thine own self be true.” Todd Graves has applied that philosophy to his business life with great success in building Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers into the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the country, and he recommends others do the same.

“Our No. 1 strategy for growth is staying true to who we are,” said Graves, who proudly displays the title of “Founder & CEO, Fry Cook & Cashier” on his Raising Cane’s business card. “That means staying true to our one love, and that’s quality chicken finger meals, never losing that focus.

“That’s our concept, which is doing one thing and doing it better than anybody else,” he said.

Graves shared his thoughts on growing a business and creating a winning organizational culture in the September episode of the 21st Century Business Forum, which features monthly one-on-one interviews with some of the nation’s most prominent business minds and thought leaders.

Graves maintains it is important for leaders to retain a singular focus if they’re going to succeed.

“I would encourage anybody in business or any other organization to find your one love,” Graves said.

“My one love is chicken fingers, and I strive to be the best at that,” he said. As for others, he urges them to lock in on what they do exceptionally well “and then execute it every day, day in, day out.”

“That’s how you win,” Graves said, adding, “Not trying to be all things to all people is so important because if you try to be all things to all people, you’re not anything to anybody.”

Raising Cane’s has been in business 25 years and has tripled in size in the last five years, with 575 restaurants at present and an eye on $3 billion in annual sales. The so-called industry experts have told Graves along the way that he couldn’t take his limited menu to other markets beyond his Louisiana roots and make it, but he said “sticking to (our) guns is really what has made us successful.”

“Instead of spending time working on different things like menu items or different things to basically cannibalize our own business, we actually can concentrate on the things that matter―our team, our customers, our community,” Graves said.

And it is his team―or, as he calls it, his “crew”―that Graves said “is my No. 1 focus.”

That focus is based on the belief that in order for great customer service to take place, the company’s leadership “should serve our crew members who are serving those customers.” And a key to serving Raising Cane’s crew members, Graves said, is “to let them know they’re appreciated”―something all organizations can and should do.

“Communicate that (appreciation) with them, constantly,” Graves said, noting that “this is a great day and age with social media and crew apps, employee apps” to do just that.

“Secondarily, show them (appreciation) by doing stuff for them,” Graves said. He said he created a department called “Cane’s Love” that is “staffed with a whole bunch of people, and the whole purpose of it is crew member respect, recognition and rewards.”

Graves recently rolled out a Restaurant Partner Program aimed at making restaurant operators millionaires in 10-15 years as well as a suite of educational benefits to hourly and managerial crew members with no waiting periods that gives them access to tuition discounts at institutions like Southern Methodist University, Tulane, Howard University, LSU and more as part of the company’s “No Crew Left Behind” mantra.

“Crew member appreciation is our secret to customer service,” Graves said.

The Business Forum is presented by Atlanta magazine.

The Business Forum continues in October with innovative Dollar Shave Club Founder Michael Dubin. It airs October 13 at 12 PM EST. Register to view the webcast free here.