Just when you thought that Papa John's founder and ex-chairman (as well as ex-CEO) might learn from his mistakes, he proves you wrong. John Schnatter thinks he should be the face of the company again.

Given the damage the company has already seen, taking Schnatter back would be a huge mistake. But when entrepreneurs are blinded by a need to stroke their egos, emotional intelligence, critical for good marketing, will be in short supply.

In his interview with the Associated Press, Schnatter said that his use of the n-word wasn't given the actual context, which he thinks excuses it. Resigning was a "mistake," he told reporter Candice Choi.

Schnatter is so far off base that, were it a World Series game, he'd be in uniform in an empty stadium in the wrong city.

You can't market a company with poor emotional intelligence. The whole point is to understand where other people are coming from.

Schnatter's misapprehensions start with the idea that context would make people understand that his use of the n-word was acceptable. But, the context was a discussion, with a marketing firm, of perceptions that he was racist, owing to the reaction last fall toward the NFL and players taking a knee. The topic was how to improve the situation.

As a reminder, Schnatter blamed the league for a bad quarter and said, "The NFL has hurt us by not resolving the current [protest] debacle to the players' and owners' satisfaction."

The players were protesting racism by taking at knee during the national anthem and had a series of options for the league to help players address criminal justice reform. Some of the actions would have taken virtually no money or time. By focusing on the NFL getting things back to business and not recognizing that they had a problem, Schnatter effectively disregarded the players' concerns. His statements were emotionally tone deaf.

Within the conference call, Schnatter quoted that Kentucky Fried Chicken Harlan Sanders used to call his employees by the racial epithet and said that he didn't face a backlash over it.

Sanders sold the company in 1964. He was a spokesman through the 1970s. A far different time. And aside from that, there are people who worked with him and said they never heard him use the term, according to a Louisville Courier Journal story. And, as Courier Journal reporter Emily Austin noted: "The question is who in a position of power during that time would have any inclination to call out Sanders, or any other white person, for using a derogatory word against a marginalized community?"

Today, there is no context that would allow Schnatter to use the word. None. To try and excuse it, and think that people would generally accept the explanation, only compounds the problem.

This also isn't the only issue for the company. Forbes came out with report about the company's "toxic culture":

Based on interviews with 37 current and former Papa John's employees--including numerous executives and board members--Schnatter's alleged behavior ranges from spying on his workers to sexually inappropriate conduct, which has resulted in at least two confidential settlements.

Schnatter has disputed most of the story, according to Forbes. Papa John's did not respond to requests for comments. The AP story didn't address the additional report.

Schnatter's position has gone far beyond a single damaging utterance. Even if there was nothing wrong with the company's culture, that such a report came out undermines any chance that he could, or should, play any role at the business. Any degree of emotional intelligence would have taken into account current events, #MeToo, and the reaction of Wall Street with the growing use of what's being called "Weinstein clauses" to avoid companies whose managers have faced sexual harassment charges.

He isn't thinking about the company. He's not thinking about the franchisees and the employees. He's not thinking about the business partners, vendors, or even customers. He's thinking about himself and how he wants to run things. This is pure ego, creating excuses for why putting him first is supposed to be good for everyone.

By the way, the day after Schnatter was talked into resigning as chairman, the stock jumped by 11 percent.

Maybe Schnatter should start paying attention more closely. Or even at all.

Published on: Aug 3, 2018