Krispy Kreme CEO says passion is the key to a successful life and career

3.26.2014 Article, Careers, Leadership, School News

There’s no question that Jim Morgan’s time with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. – both as board member and as President and CEO – was a steep uphill climb at the beginning.

When he became board chairman in 2005, the company was struggling to regain its footing after too-rapid growth, its franchisees were livid, and it was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What got the company through, and what has sustained Morgan himself during any difficult time in his career: Passion.

Morgan underscored the importance of passion and leadership at a Speaker Series presentation March 20 at the Wake Forest University Charlotte Center.

“As you go on to your employment, ask yourself if you have a passion for it,” he told the Wake Forest University School of Business students and other audience members at the session. “If you are not pursing something that is a passion in your life as a career, you are either chasing somebody else’s dream or chasing somebody else’s dream for you.”

In fact, when he was asked to step up as CEO of Krispy Kreme, he was pretty sure he didn’t want the job. He was pretty sure he never wanted to work for another publicly traded company. But he said he’d consider it, and that he and his wife, Peggy, would pray on it. He thought a lot about the nostalgia of the Krispy Kreme brand – how he could buy them sometimes two for a nickel growing up and that nearly everyone else growing up in the South has a similar story.

He and his wife decided Krispy Kreme was where he needed to be, and he set about renewing his employees’ passion for and faith in the company. One of the most important things they did was write a mission statement, a task that took 18 months and that he insisted be more than, “Sell more doughnuts.” “Life is too important for that to be our mission,” he said. “If that is our mission, this is my last day here.”

Instead, they came up with this: “To touch and enhance lives through the joy that is Krispy Kreme.”

“If we live that out, we’ll sell all the doughnuts we ever could,” Morgan said. “Together, we all started believing in each other and believing in the future.”

He shared the 10 things he has learned in his career – and that he recommends for every business student.

  1. Make sure you’re pursuing one of your passions. You’ll find fame and success or you wont – but you’ll be happy.
  2. There will be a lot of bends in the road. It’s not the end of your life unless you fail to make a turn.
  3. Sometimes the road will end. Find the positives, plot your new directions and get excited about your new beginning.
  4. The wisdom of hindsight is invaluable, but never use it to judge. Use it to learn.
  5. Don’t ever let transactions lead what you do. Let relationships lead. And don’t let technology take relationships out of your life.
  6. Learn how to treat yourself the way you do your best friend. You build your friend up when he or she fails. Why not offer yourself the same grace?
  7. Never start out to seek credit, and when credit comes your way, find ways to share it with others. Bring others into that credit circle.
  8. Though you can’t control your circumstances, you can control your attitude about those circumstances – good or bad.
  9. Do not be confused about the true definition of success. Your success will not be measured by what you do – it will be measured by who you are.
  10. Never move your life or career forward at the expense of your family.

That last piece of advice strikes a particular chord for Morgan. When his children were young, he was faced with moving his family away from Charlotte for a job. He averted that by returning to a company he had worked for before, investment banking and brokerage firm Interstate/Johnson Lane.

He expected his 6-year-old daughter to celebrate the news; instead, she cried. The last time he worked for that company, she said she never saw him. So he made a vow to see her every day he was in town – even if he had to take a break and then return to work after he saw her.

That made all the difference.

Prospective MBA student Margaret Kornegay, whose company works with Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac in the mortgage investment field, said she appreciated lesson No. 3.

“Learning that it’s not a dead end, but how do you restart” – especially important in the mortgage industry, she said.

It’s all about passion, Morgan said: “Go forward from this hall and this program, committed to touching and enhancing lives, pursuing a true passion … building a life instead of building a resume.”