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    What Inspires Biscuitville President Kathie Niven

  • Niven always thought she would become a lawyer. But lucky for the quick-serve industry, she caught the food bug.

    Biscuitville
    Kathie Niven got the restaurant bug helping grow an Arby's franchise.

    I spent my high school and college years wanting to be a corporate litigator. While doing a law internship, a friend purchased an Arby’s franchise and asked me to help her get started. We sat on the floor of a little warehouse every weekend developing strategies and marketing plans. I just got the bug and fell in love. The fact that we had no idea what we were doing was very liberating. We turned a $650,000 franchise into a $1.5 million Arby’s, which was unprecedented at the time.

    When my friend retired, I was young and not interested in diving in at that level. Krispy Kreme was preparing for an IPO and looking for somebody to do its franchise, branding, and marketing. I’m from North Carolina, so obviously I’m a huge Krispy Kreme fan. After that, I worked for an agency, which was the only time I didn’t work in food. The irony is a lot of my business acumen came from agency work. It helped me connect the dots between food and business strategy.

    At the core, I really enjoy organizational design. I also love consumer analytics, problem solving, and helping build great teams. As chief brand officer at Biscuitville, I was responsible for the organizational design and was doing a lot of the project management of enterprise-wide initiatives. So when I became president, there were very few things that I hadn’t been actively engaged in. And it’s a small company—we have 55 restaurants—so I had access to really the entire organization. I think [CEO] Burney Jennings did a great job of giving me access and responsibilities to prepare me for this role.

    I tend to be a softer, slightly altruistic leader. Until I was in a position to watch things thrive under that style, I just assumed there was a more standard, universal way of leading. The reality is every single person who is in a leadership position leads differently because they’re just a reflection of their values and their style and their beliefs, and I admire leaders who are willing to break paradigms in an effort to truly lead authentically. One of my greatest gifts will be to help women figure that out earlier in their careers.


    What was your first job?

    I was a receptionist in high school for an insurance company.

    What is your favorite menu item at Biscuitville?

    Hands down, it’s the Country Ham and Cheese biscuit. Always has been.

    What’s your favorite type of cuisine excluding Southern fare?

    I love Thai food.

    Who has inspired you as a leader?

    I think Brené Brown’s work is really groundbreaking. I just ordered another 10 copies of Dare to Lead and had a two-hour lunch with one of the people here to coach them through that book.

    What’s the best piece of advice you think restaurant leaders should hear?

    The team can’t take their eye off of the consumer. Consumers typically have the answers to your most difficult questions. It’s easy to run a business top-down, but it really should be designed to run from consumer up.

    What are some of your interests outside of the business?

    My real job is my family. I have a 16-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, so we love to travel, and they play a lot of sports.