Women in Business Q&A: Christina Chambers, VP Franchise Development, Huddle House

Christina Chambers is Vice President of Franchise Development at Huddle House, a 52-year old full-service family dining restaurant with more than 400 locations open and under development. Christina is responsible for creating and executing strategic plans to grow the franchise footprint within the company's core Southeastern U.S. market and into new markets in the Midwest and Northeast. She began a career in the franchise industry 16 years ago while in college, as a sales and marketing intern at Great Wraps, a quick service restaurant franchise. Since then she has worked her way up to leadership roles in multiple food and service franchises, including Quizno's, Velocity Sports Performance, Global Franchise Group and Brightway Insurance. She and her husband also own a Great American Cookies franchise in Dunwoody, GA. Christina holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Emory University's Goizueta School of Business.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Growing up in a military family and moving numerous times throughout my school years, I learned early on how to adapt, be approachable, and communicate with many different personality types in order to make friends. My childhood was filled with opportunities to meet new people and learn new things, which I always embraced and still do today. I had the opportunity to meet many effective and ineffective leaders along the way and absorbed what to do and, possibly more importantly what not to do, when I had the chance to lead a team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Huddle House?
In a very direct way, a previous job is the reason I am at Huddle House today - a former colleague referred me to the CEO when they started a search for my position. I had no idea she thought so highly of me! In every previous position, I have been 100% committed to doing the job with excellence and creating value for the company. That focus pays off in many ways. I also made a point of taking every opportunity to build relationships with colleagues, attend industry conferences and share best practices. It helps a lot these days when I need to bounce an idea off someone who has an outsider perspective.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Huddle House?
Huddle House is in a brand revitalization stage. We are a 52 year old franchise company that began an entire system remodeling effort 4 years ago. There were definitely growth pains and challenges with franchise owners who could not see the benefit of spending money to remodel their restaurants to an updated design. However, this effort has also turned into a highlight for us, as the owners who did remodel their stores enjoy double digit sales growth and boosted profits. I call that a win-win. The franchisees are making more money, they're happier, and we get the benefit of their validation for potential owners that Huddle House is a strong brand worthy of investment.

Another highlight for me is that I get the chance to work with an amazing executive leadership team comprised of really smart people who each have 30+ years of industry experience. We meet once a week to discuss our departmental issues and strategy plans, with everyone providing very open and honest feedback and suggestions. It's intense and a lot of fun at the same time.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Find a franchise company that specializes in a product or service that you truly believe in and one that prioritizes the success of their franchisees. Those companies that truly follow the Raving Fans model (read the Ken Blanchard book) are the ones you should seek out for career opportunities.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Never stop learning. Know your strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with people you trust to help you fill in the gaps. And give back to those who help you.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I will admit I am a workaholic and have a tough time cutting it off at the end of the day. I am a good example of someone who embodies the quote -- choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life. Luckily I have a wonderful, supportive husband who usually has dinner waiting for me when I get home late! On the weekends, though, it's all about family, friends and my dogs. I just added a recurring meeting invitation on my calendar for some gym time during the week too, so I force a break to recharge and build up energy to tackle more work!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I see the confidence gap as the biggest obstruction for women in the workplace. I have had to urge many female friends to take a risk on a promotion or job opportunity for which they were very qualified and shouldn't have needed the push. We must stop underestimating ourselves in the workplace in order to fill the corporate leadership ranks with more women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Good role models and mentors have made an enormous positive impact on my life and made me a happier, more accomplished person. Professionally, I can honestly say that I have learned more from mentors than I did in college. One of my first bosses in franchising, Bob Solomon at Great Wraps, shared more about real estate negotiations that I ever could have learned taking classes. We are still friends today. Personally, my husband is the best life coach and has taught me to forgive myself when I make mistakes and to live life with a sense of humor.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am a fan of Sophia Amoruso, and agree with her that women should define our own version of success and not follow a path that others set for you. Those empowering messages are so necessary for young girls to grow into great female leaders. In my industry, Catherine Monson is an inspiration. She is a powerhouse female leader who fosters a company culture around positive mental attitude. She is growing her company the way I aspire to.

What do you want Huddle House to accomplish in the next year?
I am excited to see big grand openings this year in new markets in the Northeast and Midwest, where new customers will get the chance to enjoy Huddle House's delicious Southern-inspired comfort food and all-day breakfast. We are also rolling out new systems and growing our support staff so I expect continued growth and improvement to our franchisees' bottom line.