Jim Toth '17

Owner + Operator, Retired Lieutenant Colonel

Wednesday, January 9, 2019TOPICS: Alumni

Military headshot of USD MSEL alumnus, Jim Toth
begin quoteOwning & operating a restaurant of one of the most-loved, fastest-growing fast food chains in the US, Toth strives to make a positive impact on each and every customer who passes through his establishment – a number he estimates at nearly 1 million.

Chick-fil-A, US Marine Corps

When Jim Toth speaks of servant leadership, it’s not just lip service.

A 20-year retired US Marine Corps CH-46E pilot, squadron commander and current franchisee of Chick-fil-A in Temecula, California, Toth made the transition from serving his country to serving his employees, customers and community with the vision that they will one day do the same.

“Chicken and waffle fries may be our ‘what,’’’ he said. “But our ‘why’ is to develop servants – of which I am one – who impact and influence the places they lead.”

Toth was presented with the opportunity to purchase a Chick-fil-A franchise after retiring as Lieutenant Colonel in Command of the Headquarters Squadron at the Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton in San Diego. While business was booming from the start, Toth couldn’t help but feel he was missing something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“I wanted to develop a positive culture,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was a people problem or a me problem, but something wasn’t quite clicking. I wasn’t growing into the leader I felt I could be, or that I should be.”

Toth sought the advice of an old colleague and then-USD Master’s in Executive Leadership (MSEL) student about the program.

“I called him, and I said, ‘Talk to me about MSEL and about USD,’” he recalled. “It became clear to me from that conversation that MSEL was the bullseye as far as what I needed to develop as a leader and to grow my business into the best it could be.”

After enrolling in the program, Toth was surprised to find that as much as he had always resisted the idea of going back to school, the MSEL curriculum – and particularly the finance, accounting and marketing coursework – was much more valuable than he had anticipated, especially for someone who didn’t have a business background. But the real value, he said, was in the “safe space” he found within his cohort – a group of fellow business leaders who faced challenges similar to those he dealt with daily as a franchise owner.

“I loved how the program was really built around that cohort,” he said. “We were able to challenge each other and challenge the material, while also being challenged by it. It was a really powerful tool to live inside that environment for two years and to allow ideas and emotions to flow freely.”

The MSEL program from USD is designed to help established and emerging business owners and executives understand who they are as leaders – their values, ethics and disposition – with the objective of leading high-performing teams at every level. For Toth, it was a way to step back and look not only at his business, but at himself.

“The program gave me the space to separate myself from the day-to-day operations, and it allowed me to challenge not only what I thought the business should be, but what I thought I should be for the business,” he said.

Owning and operating a restaurant of one of the most-loved, fastest-growing fast food chains in the U.S., Toth strives to make a positive impact on each and every customer who passes through his establishment – a number he estimates at nearly one million per year.

“The food is just the vehicle,” he said. “It’s the experience they get when they come here that makes the difference. I’ve worked really hard at creating that culture, and the MSEL program provided me the space and the expertise to be able to do it at that scale.”

During his time at USD, Toth finally came to realize what it was he had been missing from the start. Building the culture he envisioned wasn’t possible without first understanding what that vision was. Defining his values as a leader, he said, was the single most important virtue he gained from USD.

“There isn’t a business owner or leader who shouldn’t attend the MSEL program,” he said. “If you want to be an impactful leader who influences your community or your sphere, USD is the place to go. Period.”

Contact:

Renata Ramirez
renataramirez@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4658