What is in this article?:
- Former Boloco CEO shares reasons for leaving in staff memo
- Leaving with a quote
Read the full memo sent by John Pepper to employees of Boloco.
John Pepper, co-founder and former chief executive of the Boston-based Boloco
John Pepper, co-founder and former chief executive of the Boston-based Boloco burrito chain, stepped down in October after an investment deal fell apart in a dispute over control.
In a memo to the 22-unit chain’s employees dated Oct. 18, Pepper explained that his resignation followed an ultimatum given to the board in a last-ditch effort to push the deal through. Incumbent investors, however, were unwilling to relinquish control of the company to the investment firm, which had offered $15 million to help fund new growth.
Boloco and Pepper have given permission to NRN to publish the memo in its entirety. It appears below.
By now, most of you have heard that after nearly 17 years my last day as CEO of Boloco was last Monday (10/7). If you think it was a surprise to you, please know that it was also a “relative” surprise to me too. And if you think today, Day 12, is a walk in the park, think again. This is not easy.
Make no mistake. I love Boloco. I’ve lived and breathed it more than I ever imagined possible. From scratch in 1997, we built this company from one tiny location on Mass Ave. to 22 restaurants and over $27 million in annualized sales in 2014. We did so with a highly differentiated, delicious product, a unique brand personality and voice, a maniacal commitment to treating each guest as if they were our very last, innovative marketing strategies and tactics, and a higher purpose to positively impact the lives and futures of people who work in fast food through bold and inspired food and practices. I’m immensely proud of these things and grateful to have had the chance to work on so many worthwhile endeavors as the company’s CEO. And now that I’ve had a few weeks’ perspective under my wings, I thought I owed those of you who care or are curious the more complete story, as I see it.
It was about this time last month, after over 60 days of reasonably intense and fragile new investor due diligence (a fancy term for saying “audit”… of everything we do to see if we are worthy of new investment $$) that it became quite clear that the new financial supporters were, in fact, going to follow through with their $15 million investment commitment, which our board and our investors had approved in mid-July at a high (term sheet) level. Boloco’s future, it appeared, happily, would once again include rapid growth, investment in the future, and an ability to hire world-class people ahead of our current size. New challenges lay ahead, for sure, but so did ample resources to tackle those challenges. Last Tuesday, October 15 would have been the day we celebrated our new future – the day the transaction would be complete and new money in the bank. I could honestly and clearly see (and smell?) the finish line, and it was very, very promising.
In an unexpected turn of events, only days before everything was supposed to be complete, our current ownership group and the new investors could not resolve their different views regarding control of the company and, with neither side willing to capitulate, the deal fell apart. The current majority owners essentially blocked the transaction and terms that our board had previously approved, which was, to be clear, 100 percent in their legal right to do. In an effort to bring our “dream” back to life, I put my job on the line and issued an ultimatum to our Board and current ownership to either take the $15M deal, invest $4M immediately themselves, or to accept my resignation “for good reason” (a legal term that I thought might matter but didn’t in the end). I walked the proverbial plank, and sadly never got to get back on our boat. In short, our current owners accepted my resignation and rejected the deal. It happened very quickly.
Everything you see happening now at the Support Center is a direct result of the above series of events. So, what now? Well, I’m most definitely and officially off the boat. And while my decision to stand firm for what I believed was right and ultimately leave the company most definitely comes as a result of substantially differing views between myself and our ownership partners as to how to best create value for Boloco, please know this:
A company like ours, in its current state and at its current size, can be and is a wonderful place to work and to thrive for most of you, for many years to come.
As for me, I’ve been doing this for nearly 17 years, and as you know, that’s a really, really long time – consider the fact that there are at least two of you employed by Boloco today who weren’t even alive when we first opened our doors!
For me personally, at this stage in my career/life, a new kind of personal growth is critical. When the $15 million in new capital scheduled to arrive on October 15 was no longer a reality, I realized that my life aspirations would be harder to fulfill if I remained CEO. More importantly, I have seen and experienced the current “episode” of Boloco (ie. today’s challenges) more than a few times, and honestly don’t have any new solutions to the “same old” challenges we face as a company.
Trust me on this, and most of you probably already know it: there exists, somewhere, a far more experienced CEO candidate with a fresh perspective who will lead a 22-unit restaurant chain like ours to solid ground and long-term prosperity, while maintaining our unique people-first culture. For the right leader – an individual who will be a world-class operator at his/her core – getting us back to performance excellence might even be an easy(ish) task. When I think about it from this perspective, I am positive that the right decisions have been made, even if they weren’t my or our owners’ original intentions.