What was Herman Cain like as CEO?

The former Godfather's Pizza CEO and conservative talk show host sparred with Bill Clinton over health care reform in the 1990s, and his early announcement that he planned to seek the GOP nomination garnered the only African-American Republican in the field some much-needed publicity. But Cain remains a relative unknown without the infrastructure or fundraising apparatus to compete with the bigger names, and it would take a seismic shift for him to become a major player in the fight for the nomination. More Coverage on Herman Cain Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Herman Cain
The former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Herman Cain's former employees at Godfather's Pizza recall him as an energetic and dynamic leader. They say he listened to new ideas and went out of his way to remember everyone's name and wanted his team to do the same.

Four times a year, Godfather's executives would hold corporate meetings with all 300 employees in the company's auditorium in its Omaha headquarters. According to two former employees, at each meeting, Cain would pick one executive at random and call them onto the stage to identify each employee by name. If the executive missed any names, they would be required to take that person to lunch.

Cain himself took the "employee of the quarter" to lunch personally and was known for cheerleading his staff. One former employee, Jolene Jeffries, said she can't recall ever seeing Cain angry. She said, instead, he would rally employees by saying things like, "We can do better than this." One employee told CBS News he recalled a day when he and his colleagues went into Cain's office expecting a stern talking to, only to be shocked when he surprised them with bonus checks.

Employees concede that Cain downsized Godfather's after the company was bought from Pillsbury in the mid 1980's but one said, "It was mostly through attrition." One employee said stores were also closed to "stop the bleeding" so the company could become more profitable.

During the downsizing, one employee surprised Cain by offering to eliminate his own job. Bruce Newharth who is now the President and COO of Arrow Stagelines in Norfolk, Nebraska says he helped Cain develop his first "100 day strategy" to turn the company around after it was bought from Pillsbury.

Newharth, who worked as the head of Godfather's training at the time, said when he looked at the restructuring that needed to happen he concluded that his own job was no longer necessary. He says he presented this to Cain saying this move would be "true to Godfather's and to himself". Weeks later Newharth was downsized but he says Cain helped him land a job in worldwide training at Burger King.

Former employees say Cain would regularly solicit and implement ideas from junior employees, even teenagers who worked at the chain's stores.

In the mid 1990's Cain was personally featured in Godfather's TV ads and as a result the company received threatening racist phone calls directed at Cain from the Pacific Northwest according to two former employees. One employee who golfed regularly with Cain, told CBS News that the CEO also faced threats in the South. Because of this, the employee said, Cain would fly from city to city instead of driving due to safety concerns. Former employees said Cain appeared to easily shake off the threats. A campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

  • Laura Strickler

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