Politics & Policy

Herman Cain, Successful CEO

The GOP frontrunner prospered as Big Cheese of Godfather’s Pizza.

Herman Cain has every right to feel uncomfortable.

According to news reports based on anonymous sources, the GOP presidential frontrunner is suspected of unspecified acts of sexual harassment while running the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Cain’s first accuser considered coming forward, but now says she will stay in the shadows. Like a hit-and-run driver, she wounded Cain and now speeds off into the night.

#ad# What, if anything, transpired between Cain and his associates remains as unclear as this episode’s ultimate impact on Cain’s upstart, surprisingly successful, and — for many — refreshing candidacy.

Too bad this media Nor’easter overwhelmed two recent stories on a sunnier aspect of Cain’s past: his tenure as CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. If these reports are accurate, Cain is a diligent, cerebral, tough-but-fair executive who turned a failing and flabby organization into a fit, effective enterprise. Imagine if this tested manager could do likewise with America’s paunchy and profligate federal government.

First, between 1983 and 1985, Cain revitalized Burger King’s 450-store Philadelphia region. He moved it from a laggard to a leader among the company’s twelve geographic territories.

“My career spans 38 years, and I’ve worked for 26 different managers,” said Frank Taylor, Cain’s former regional controller at Burger King. “Herman was far and away the best I’ve worked for in terms of getting a team together, sharing a vision, and accomplishing the goals. And nothing diverted him.”

Pillsbury brass then tapped Cain to resuscitate Godfather’s Pizza. They gave him one year. Godfather’s “had one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel,” Cain has said. According to Neal St. Anthony’s article in the October 30 Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Godfather’s was “waylaid by a tired menu, demoralized employees, and lousy results.”

“I’m Herman Cain and this ain’t no April Fool’s joke,” he told Godfather’s employees upon arrival on April 1, 1986. “We are not dead. Our objective is to prove to Pillsbury and everybody else that we will survive.”

Cain got very busy indeed. He worked long hours, gave frequent pep talks, canvassed employees individually for their ideas, and even cooked pizzas himself — both in Godfather’s test kitchen and its retail locations.

Cain energized his headquarters staff with after-work sing-alongs and expected top supervisors to communicate on a first-name basis with all of their subordinates. Cain tested them on this skill. He also pressed $50 bills into the palms of employees whose customer service or pizza-making prowess impressed him as he visited Godfather’s outlets.

“Herman was very quantitative and analytical,” former Pillsbury executive George Mileusnic recalled in the Star-Tribune, “but he demanded that everybody be engaged, and every employee must be appreciated and respected.”

“He’s very, very inspiring,” Godfather’s marketing director Charles Henderson told Brady Dennis in the October 23 Washington Post. “The guy can convince you to run through a wall.”

By 1987, Godfather’s was on a roll. It generated an operating profit, and gained market share against Domino’s and Pizza Hut. According to the Post, Cain closed failing stores and laid off their workers. However, average sales and profit margins grew at surviving restaurants. One year later, Cain arranged for his team to buy the chain from Pillsbury for an undisclosed sum and remained Godfather’s capo di tutti capi until 1995. Once left for dead, Godfather’s thrives even today. It remains in private hands, and its 220 franchisees operate some 620 restaurants.

#page# As for Cain, “you get what you see,” said Frank Taylor, his onetime financial controller. “He doesn’t have his finger in the air testing the political winds. I mean, who really is Mitt Romney? You don’t have that question with Herman.”

Rather than discuss any of this, however, the campaign press corps will hound Cain about what, if anything, he may have said or done to one or more people whose names and faces remain modern mysteries.

#ad# The news media’s Rottweiler-like focus on Cain and these harassment allegations contrasts perfectly with the feline laziness it displayed when the very non-anonymous Juanita Broaddrick credibly accused then-president Bill Clinton not of harassment but of rape back when he was the attorney general of Arkansas.

Broaddrick appeared on NBC News’ Dateline program on February 24, 1999. She offered concrete details and recalled the alleged April 25, 1978, incident while sitting in the very same Little Rock hotel room where she said the sexual violation transpired. Broaddrick even mentioned that Clinton, at that time, pointed out the window at an old building that he hoped to restore if he became governor. While the Pulaski County Jail had been torn down in the intervening period, NBC’s Lisa Myers televised a contemporaneous black-and-white photo of the building, just as it stood outside that hotel window when Broaddrick claims Clinton referred to it.

Surely, the Left applauded Broaddrick for her courage in coming forward and screamed for an investigation?

Yeah, right.

Democratic strategist Susan Estrich, herself a rape victim, declared on Meet the Press after the Dateline interview, “The country wants to move on.” Other feminists and liberals dismissed Broaddrick’s claim as ancient history, unworthy of even a question at a presidential press conference.

For its part, NBC Nightly News presented zero follow-up on the story the next evening — not even a White House denial. NBC lawyers then slapped restrictions on Meyers’s excellent interview. This prevented other channels from using that crucial footage in subsequent coverage of these explosive allegations. So, what should have been dynamite instead detonated like a damp firecracker.

Poor Herman Cain. If he were a Democrat, his biggest headache today would be how to survive the loud snores of the liberal press.

Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

Deroy Murdock — Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online.

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