Don Fox
CEO, Firehouse America, LLC
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Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox says that after he learned the importance and power of empathy, he transitioned from being a manager into a leader.  
Fox, head of Firehouse of America LLC, parent of the fast-casual Firehouse Subs sandwich chain, says the company’s mantra is to give back to first responders and the local communities its restaurants serve. 
The business leader recently appeared on our podcast series, Fast Casual Insider, where he shared his thoughts on changes in the restaurant industry, the importance of leadership, and things he likes most about his job.  

Why do you think you became a leader?

I was thrust into management at 18, but there is a big difference between management and leadership. It took a few years before I realized the difference. I imagine I got placed as a manager because of my work ethic, dedication and attention to detail. But I only started functioning as a true leader when I learned the importance of empathy — truly understanding what your employees are experiencing. That is what impacts your ability to rally your team around a common goal. 

What, in your opinion, is the biggest disrupter to the industry?

Consumers’ shift to off-premises dining is changing how we design and operate our restaurants. The more the consumer shifts away from using dining rooms, the more competitive the landscape becomes. The erosion of dine-in business isn't the fault of the industry; we haven't caused the consumer to seek alternatives because of poor experiences. It is the outside factors, which largely involve customers’ comfort level with technology and their expectations from it, that have created relatively rapid changes in consumer behavior. How we adapt to it will largely determine the future relevance of restaurants. 

What is the best part of your job and why?

I enjoy so many aspects of my job that, frankly, it’s difficult to pick a favorite, but at or near the top of the list is the discovery of ‘why?’ What I mean is that in the process of growing a brand, we’re faced with countless questions that start with the word why? This is particularly true when you have to wrestle with difficult problems. Going through the discovery process to answer the ‘why,’ and nailing the solution is gratifying, especially when your team reaches those conclusions together. 
To hear more of Fox’s industry insights, listen to Fast Casual Insider: Don Fox.