In a Former Life: Anne Beiler
Present life: Founder of Auntie Anne's, the nation's largest franchisor of pretzel shops.
Former life: Between the ages of 14 and 19, Beiler waitressed five days a week at a truck stop just outside her hometown of Gap, Pa.
Lessons learned: "What I learned was, you can't always put profits before people. Other waitresses used to complain about how rude this truck driver was or how ugly that one was. I was the only Amish-Mennonite girl there, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. But since I'd been raised in that culture, service and giving were a part of my life as far back as I could remember.
"In 1994 we spent 10 months negotiating with venture capitalists. They were going to buy about a 32% stake and take us public. We had about 325 stores at the time, and we needed a cash infusion to grow. But I decided it wasn't right. Had we gone public, the pressure to perform financially would have been greater than our feelings about supporting our employees and franchisees. It was difficult enough to keep the personal touch adding 60 stores a year. Service would have become a problem, the quality would have become a problem, money would have outweighed caring, and that would have carried out to the customer.
"To solve the cash crunch, we decided not to do as many company-owned stores, closed down a couple of unprofitable stores, and became very cost conscious. Don't get me wrong, going public can be a great cash infusion, but for us it would have been a quick fix. We've learned we can build just as well if we grow at a pace we're comfortable with. Our focus isn't being the largest pretzel company in the world, it's on opening one store at a time."