As Greg Rowden toured the site of his first SONIC Drive-In with his father, he discussed business strategy and dreams of opening multiple restaurants. Greg talked about his passion for hiring great people, how he’d lead his team and how supporting them was essential to his success. Eventually his father shared seven words that would change Greg’s mindset forever: “If anyone can do this, you can.”
That would become a pivotal point in Greg’s career and a phrase of support he’d relay to team members, managers and area supervisors over the years. Thanks to his father’s encouragement, Greg set out on his dream of launching his own business.
Greg first joined SONIC when he was 15 years old. He worked as a cook throughout high school before heading off to college on a basketball scholarship. After just one semester, he returned home to marry his high school sweetheart. Since Greg had given up his scholarship, he also rejoined SONIC as a way to pay for college.
“David Gonzales was my first boss, and when I came back to work at SONIC he started giving me leadership and motivational books,” Greg said. “I realized from reading those books that my purpose in life was to lead by serving others.”
In the years that followed, Greg became a supervisor for a group of SONIC locations, opened his first two drive-ins and eventually joined two other franchisees to form DHR Sonic Group. From the beginning, they built a foundation based on a shared belief: “Our people make the difference.”
“Greg’s main goal as a leader has always been to serve and support others. He’s modeled that so well that it trickles down to everyone in our organization,” Gene Morris, supervising partner with DHR Sonic Group, said. “When he’s in the restaurant, he’ll sweep the parking lot. If someone on our team is going through a rough time, they know he’s always here to support us. Others see that and they follow the example Greg sets.”
When Greg began remodeling a few of his drive-ins, he asked team members for their input. Based on their recommendations, he then customized the layout to their specific wants and needs. For some drive-ins, that meant organizing the stalls closer to the restaurant. For others, it meant designing the kitchen in a different way. One SONIC even installed a large, 50-foot outdoor patio with a water fountain as a hangout spot for local college kids to enjoy.
Thanks to their passion for supporting others, DHR Sonic Group was awarded the Torch Award for Ethics in 2017 by the Better Business Bureau of Arkansas, presented to businesses that have a high level of trust built among team members, guests and their communities. And just a year later, Greg received the “Great People Award” from SONIC, given to an individual who has made the training, development and retention of people a top priority.
“SONIC has allowed us to make a difference in the lives of so many people, and that’s still the most exciting part of my 38 years in this business,” Greg said.
“The very first assistant manager I hired nearly 30 years ago is now the director of operations at one of the largest franchisee groups at SONIC. To see these success stories, and to feel like I played a small role in it, that’s what continues to drive me.”
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