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Jim Treliving, owner of the Boston’s Pizza chain, photographed with his Bentley in front of one of his restaurants in Irving, Texas, March 3, 2010. (Courtney Perry For The Globe and Mail)
Jim Treliving, owner of the Boston’s Pizza chain, photographed with his Bentley in front of one of his restaurants in Irving, Texas, March 3, 2010. (Courtney Perry For The Globe and Mail)

Managing Books

Dragon’s Den co-star says use your head – and your heart – to make decisions Add to ...

Decisions

By Jim Treliving

(Collins, 256 pages, $29.99)

Jim Treliving has a simple formula for successful decisions. He makes decisions about work with his heart, about money with his head, and about people with his gut.“In other words, I’m emotional about work, practical about money and instinctual about people,” the entrepreneur and co-star of the CBC Television series Dragons’ Den and The Big Decision writes in his new book, Decisions.

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Mr. Treliving started his work life as an RCMP officer, then on a whim and with no restaurant experience grabbed the chance with a policing partner to start the first Boston Pizza franchise in British Columbia. He eventually took over the entire chain, and expanded it across Canada and into the United States. (Along the way he also acquired Mr. Lube and extended its franchises as well.)

He has had various partners, lived in various cities, and experienced reversals and successes. All of that has left him with many sage thoughts about decision-making and successful entrepreneurship.

“When you make an emotional decision about money or people, there’s a lot of room for error. That’s why I use my head when it comes to money. And when you make rational or emotional decisions about people, you can end up hiring the wrong person because you’re biased or playing it safe. That’s how a lot of companies end up with too much family on the payroll,” he writes.

“I like to listen to my gut when it comes to hiring and partnering. It never lies to me, whereas my head and heart can.”

He didn’t start out in business with this framework. But he says you can train yourself to make decisions this way by watching what happens when you don’t.

And like anyone else, he can be inconsistent. The story he tells of agreeing to appear on Dragons’ Den – which he calls “one of the single best decisions I have ever made” – came from his rational rather than passionate side. He agreed to audition and found the experience fun, but he had not liked how he looked in his previous appearance on a TV show and couldn’t see himself appearing weekly. So he turned down Dragons’ Den, only to be admonished by his wife: “Do you have any idea what this kind of publicity would do for the business?”

Mr. Treliving prefers to work with a partner in his business. “There are plenty of successful companies helmed by lone-wolf types. But I believe the longevity of our company and its steady growth can be attributed to the fact that there have always been two of us at the helm, spelling each other off, giving the other a break. Teamwork has helped us to build stamina because neither one of us had to carry the whole thing on our shoulders,” he writes.

Things fell apart with his first partner in Boston Pizza, Don Spence, because Mr. Treliving wanted to expand the business as quickly as possible while his partner was more cautious. Both were gregarious and outgoing, so their strengths overlapped. But by the end of the relationship, they were communicating poorly, with Mr. Spence leaving notes on Mr. Treliving’s desk.

He had been growing closer to George Melville, a young external accountant who helped the partners straighten out their books and who was later brought in as chief financial officer. They could bounce ideas off each other, and had complementary skills.

In his gut, he felt Mr. Melville would make a great partner, and that proved true. “Nine times out of 10 you are not firing people or ending partnerships because of lack of skill. It’s almost always about character and personality. Talent is important, experience indispensable, but if someone doesn’t fit into the culture of the company, none of that will matter,” he says.

When your gut says someone is the leader you need to bring on board, treat him or her well, he advises. He notes that when they hired someone to oversee their company’s expansion into Ontario, they gave that person a larger office than the company’s two big bosses: “Might seem like a small thing, but it signalled that this was his territory, his domain, and much was expected of him.” After Boston Pizza’s success at the Expo ’86 site, he doubled the holiday pay of employees, and managers received a free Hawaiian vacation. In his gut, it was the right thing to do.

Mr. Treliving has an easy-going, story-telling approach, and as he shares his experiences he elaborates on business decisions, ending each chapter with specific thoughts about decision-making.

The book is engrossing, with moments of impending disaster and moments of victory, and offers many useful lessons about entrepreneurship and business.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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