Michele Rice / Rice Enterprises LLC co-CEO

What drives you up the wall? "When I fail to make the best decisions for our customers, our employees and our family (as this is a family business.)"

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When trying to inspire employees to dream beyond cook and cashier positions, Rice Enterprises co-CEO Michele Rice needs only to share her father's story.

Before founding the company and acquiring his first McDonald's franchise in 1987, James Rice worked his way up from crew member to manager. Today, with 15 McDonald's franchises that employ between 800 and 1,000 people in any given year, the Bethel Park-based company is one of the region's largest minority-owned businesses.

Although Ms. Rice and her sister, Melissa, have been preparing to lead the business for most of their lives, she said anyone with the right drive and work ethic can work their way to similar roles.

"I think people have this perception that it's a dead-end job, there's nowhere to go and it's something to do because you need a job quickly. They don't look at the potential that comes with the job," she said. "It's possible to start out in this business at any level and own a restaurant."

Although she independently owned her first McDonald's franchise at age 32, she also co-owned Rice Enterprises alongside her sister, mother and father. She said having tightly defined roles and relationships built on respect made the partnership much easier than one might think.

What didn't come easily, said Ms. Rice, was knowing when it was time to step away from day-to-day operations to lead in a different way.

While running her first restaurant, she said she became so enamored with what was going on inside the shop that community outreach and business networking efforts were left largely to her father. Today, Ms. Rice said she makes it a point to engage other businesses, participate in community service initiatives and make sure the company maintains a positive image.

The key to maintaining that image for any business, she said, is for leaders to remain committed to customers' needs and to try to anticipate them.

"Keep your finger on the pulse of your business. The customer comes first, we should keep them in the middle of everything we do. The thing that will set you apart from all your other competitors is great customer service experience," she said.

For those set to come after her, Ms. Rice said it's important to recognize that experience at every level is what truly prepares those who eventually rise to the top of organizations.

"I believe leaders are born with leadership traits, but the skill sets and experience that it takes to be an effective leader are learned or created," she said.

"Experience with challenges and crisis, as they will come, shapes a leader."


-- Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652 First Published May 3, 2013 4:00 AM


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