Rick Wetzel, Co-Founder and Chairman, Blaze Pizza

“What motivates me the most is creating this organization, the people and how we change their lives.” —Rick Wetzel

July 2019

Rick Wetzel measures his success not on the number of restaurants he opens, but by the number of lives he is able to touch. Prior to co-founding his current venture, Blaze Pizza, Wetzel was the co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels. When he retired from the company in 2016, he fully understood the positive affect his work had on his employees. From putting kids through college to landing a fulfilling job, individuals thanked him for the impact he had on their lives.

Rick studied marketing at the University of Tulsa and earned his MBA from the University of Southern California. In his early 20s, he owned a video rental store and later became a brand manager at Nestle. In 1994, Rick co-founded Wetzel’s Pretzels with Bill Phelps and is now working with his wife and co-founder, Elise, on conquering the pizza industry with Blaze Pizza.

There is no finish line

As he contemplates how he leads his team, Rick excitedly alludes to a corkboard he has in his office full of sticky notes with meaningful quotes and leadership tips. This leadership board serves as a constant reminder to abide by his three key qualities of leadership: be wildly optimistic, be steady and consistent, and provide the path to a great vision. Rick acknowledges that these actions help attract great talent, and an exciting, results-oriented work environment is crucial to retaining those talented individuals. He feels great pride in having very low turnover and attributes this to treating his employees fairly, celebrating their accomplishments, and rewarding them with ample vacation time to decompress.

When asked how he avoids burnout, Rick responds candidly, “I don’t. I experience burnout if I don’t take the time to recharge.” While he stresses the importance of getting away from the office, he does admit he feels a “keen responsibility” to take at least one call while out of the office. Rick’s leadership role models—the “two Buffetts”—express his two sides perfectly: Jimmy Buffett, for his fun-loving approach to life, and Warren Buffett, for his pragmatic business side.

Awakening leadership at all levels

For Rick, leading an organization is “all about setting the path and making sure it’s articulated well.” Like any successful strategic leader, he recognizes his strengths and moves out of the way to allow others to lead on areas outside of his expertise. Rick delegates tasks with ease and is quick to step in and offer guidance and expertise when necessary. His collaborative style is one of the values he instills in his employees.

Rick also cites transparency and optimism as important motivators for his Blaze Pizza employees. Sharing the company’s financial information and always looking for the silver lining in difficult situations contribute to Rick’s leadership style.

Be prepared

Rick believes that you aren’t lucky—you make your own luck. If you’re prepared when something good comes along, then you’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunity to make something happen. His belief in empowering others and letting them take charge of their path has enabled him to build successful businesses in his 25 years as an entrepreneur.

 

Interview By Corrie Younginer & Marina Reyes & Elise Zhang

Fast Facts

Current position:
Co-founder and Chairman, Blaze Pizza
Location:
Pasadena, CA
Number of employees:
10,000, including franchise store employees
Number of years in current role:
8
Previous experience:
Prior to launching Blaze Pizza, Rick co-founded Wetzel's Pretzels, LLC in 1994 and served as its President. Rick also worked as a brand manager at Nestle for seven years.
Leaders admired the most:
Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, Warren Buffett and Jimmy Buffett
5 things you can’t live without:
Wife, kids, and three cups of coffee

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