Failed Leadership: Papa Don’t Work No More

“How can we miss you when you won’t go away?” Papa John’s leadership and shareholders might be saying.

If you’ve been following the pizza leadership drama in the news, you’ll note that a bad case of “founder’s syndrome” settled in Papa John’s ovens recently. It became a struggle of overinflated ego versus what’s right for the business. Now both the founder’s reputation and the business are significantly damaged, and the board is adopting poison (as in a pill, not in the pizza) to keep the founder at bay.

My take here is that the failure isn’t just with the founder who refused to give up control to the CEO, but it’s also with the board. When the founder — or any leader — is the primary spokesperson and relishes control, it’s difficult to have any sort of transition plan. Papa John Schnatter (the founder) went through the motions but wouldn’t go away. Regarding Steve Ritchie taking over, The Wall Street Journal (July 24, 2018) wrote: “‘When [Mr. Schnatter] gathered employees to announce Mr. Ritchie’s appointment, he told them nothing was going to change and he was still going to be making the decisions,’ said a person who attended. ‘Steve was never given true authority to be CEO. Everything had to go through John,’ this person said. ‘It was a puppet regime.’” (

When the ego of the CEO (founder or not) gets inextricably intertwined with a business, bad things happen (it occurs with countries too).

Jim Collins said in 1995, “Having a great idea or being a charismatic visionary leader is ‘time telling’; building a company that can prosper far beyond the tenure of any single leader and through multiple product life cycles is ‘clock building.’ Those who build visionary companies tend to be clock builders. Their primary accomplishment is not the implementation of a great idea, the expression of a charismatic personality, or the accumulation of wealth. It is the company itself and what it stands for.”

Unless you’re a one-person shop, you are not the business. Shame on you if you build it in such a way that it’ll fail without you. If you need to be loved that badly as a leader, adopt a dog!

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  • Don Myers

    7:31 am July 31, 2018

    Love it!!