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Tom Ferguson, founder and CEO of Rise Biscuits and Donuts, doesn’t focus on selling franchises. He doesn’t even focus on the food.

“It doesn’t really matter if I sell franchises if I don’t have a base of really good people working for me,” Tom said.

It wasn’t always that way. In the early days Tom “was just focused on the food: ‘Oh, these donuts are so great, these biscuits are so killer,’” he said.

But that didn’t work. As Tom moved to expand into additional Rise locations, the chefs that were running his kitchens didn’t have the same passion and drive that he had. The result? Substandard products and unhappy employees.

Tom knew what it was like to not be happy or satisfied in a job, and did not want his own employees to have that same experience.

After leaving his post as an airborne Ranger in the military, Tom went to work in kitchens. That’s when his drug and alcohol addictions picked up.

“At some point it became more than just filling a void. It became more of a cycle of life,” Tom explained.

Substance abuse was relatively common in the kitchen environments where he worked. The cycle of addiction and lack of purpose made work hard.

But along the way, Tom encountered a few chefs who spent a little extra time to mentor and pour into him. The seemingly insignificant act of these chefs believing in and investing in Tom would change his trajectory.

Years later, as the CEO of Rise, Tom means to do the same for his employees.

Many of the “kids,” as Tom affectionately calls the predominately young group of people that work for him, come from difficult pasts.

“I see learning disabilities, I see babies who have babies, I see some addiction, some kids who have felonies.”

While some business owners may think twice before hiring a person with a complicated record in life, Tom embraces them.

“If I see something in them that maybe they don’t even see in themselves yet —  this one thing, this personality or this love for life that they may exude, but they’re not disciplined — I say, ‘I’ll take that.’”

So that’s what he does. With fifteen Rise locations across the country and hundreds of adolescents and young adults working for the company, Tom’s focus is on creating a space where people can come to him for work and thrive.

“It’s relationships. And it’s caring enough to understand where people are going,” Tom explains. “If this helps turn these people into productive people in society, that’s more important than selling a franchise, right?”

Tom’s job now entails going to visit various stores to get to know the employees working there, and spending time mentoring the store managers so that they, in turn, can mentor their employees.

“Don’t just go through your job and punch your buttons. Get to know these kids. You’re with these people eight hours a day, more than even their family’s with them. If they’re bad or in the dumps, help them up.”


Anne Marie Hagerty

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