The Turnaround King
Aug 26, 2015 03:09PM
● By Dia
By Gina Tagliarino
We’ve all heard the saying that you must walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you can really understand who they are and what they do. But when you’re speaking to Aslam Khan, a highly successful entrepreneur and one of the top franchise holders in the country, it really isn’t that simple.
Although today the 60-year-old owner of Falcon Holdings, LLC is known for being the king of the turnaround story for struggling franchises including Church’s Chicken, Piccadilly Cafeteria, Long John Silver’s, A&W and Hardee’s, it hasn’t always been that way. Now living in a sprawling 16,500-square- foot home set on three acres on the west side of Southlake, Khan recalls a much different time – one growing up in the small village of Fatehabad, Pakistan, where shoes and most human necessities were merely a fantasy.
Humble Beginnings “Poverty in the United States is different than poverty in third-world countries,” Khan explains about the conditions he faced as a child. “There, when you say ‘poor,’ you mean no running water, no clothes, nothing at all.”
With no schools to attend in his village of about 500 people, Khan walked up to six miles each day on the moun- tain to attend school in the nearest town. By age 12, he not only walked, but also swam his way to education, crossing a three-mile river without a bridge.
“You’d take your clothes off, hold them up, and in the other hand you’d hold your bag,” Khan explains matter-of- factly. “Then you’d put your clothes back on when you got to the other side and go to school.”
The son of poverty-ridden farmers and one of 10 children, Khan knew that any sort of future he hoped to create for himself was in his hands. Though schooling was not required for children in his village, he quickly realized it was the only opportunity he had to spend his life living rather than simply surviving.
“When I came to my senses as a kid, I was thinking, ‘This is not a lifestyle. I’m sure there is better than this somewhere,’” Khan recalls. “As I got into middle school, I started reading more, and I realized education was the only way I was going to get out of this mess. So I started planning and planning, and finally I broke off and left.”
The Pursuit of a Better Life At this time, when Khan decided to leave his family to pursue a better life, he was only 14, but had already experienced more hardships than any child ever should. He decided now was the time to reach for more, and he never looked back.
“I went to the nearest city, which was then a two- to three- hour walk and a three-hour bus ride, so six hours away total,” Khan says. There he completed high school and college, and landed his “first real job” at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad after seeing an advertisement for the job. During his seven and a half years there, Khan received his first introduction to American culture and the restaurant business, which would become his life’s work. But first, he had to prove himself, both in Pakistan and in the United States.
“I was a bartender, then I became head of dining and was the general manager at the U.S. Embassy when I left for America,” Khan recalls.
His hard work had paid off in Pakistan, but when he settled in Southern California 30 years ago, he quickly learned that without local references, he might as well be starting from scratch.
“I didn’t have time to waste because I didn’t have a lot of money,” Khan says. So, he picked up the first job he was offered as a dishwasher at a local Church’s Chicken franchise, but it wasn’t long before co-workers began noticing his full potential. “As people got to know me, they put me in a Manager-in-Training program, and I became a general manager again,” he explains.
Never one to get discouraged, Khan said the key to his eventual success was to keep moving forward. “Every day, I would just pick up my stuff and keep on going,” he says.
Finding His Stride It only took a few years for Khan to have the chance to prove himself in America when he was given the opportunity to help a failing Church’s Chicken franchise get back on its feet. He did that, and then some, helping them to not only stabilize, but also to profit. Soon he became the go-to guy for franchises on the rocks, turning around businesses facing financial trouble, as he put to use the skills he gained through the years he spent as both a persistent student and a determined employee. By 1999, he had taken on the role as primary owner of Falcon Holdings, LLC, purchasing 100 Church’s Chicken units along the way.
Now, more than 15 years later, Khan continues to do what he does best, currently owning approximately 300 franchises for a variety of restaurant brands, which he will help rebuild while simultaneously selling and purchasing others. He permanently moved his headquarters to Southlake in 2008 after an extensive three-year search for the ideal location for his wife of 22 years, Hilda, and their son, Abraham, an incoming freshman at The University of Texas at Dallas this fall.
So why did Southlake reign as the winner? “It’s the best place to live – close to the airport, the weather is good, and the people are really friendly,” Khan says.
Not that he has had much free time to soak in all that Southlake has to offer. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Khan has made it his mission to not only purchase failing franchises, but to connect with his employees on a personal level. It’s the value he sees in these employees that really makes him stand out, and one of the reasons he was awarded both the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year from the International Franchise Association and the American Dream Award from Multi-Unit Franchisee Magazine this year.
Success Shared “My philosophy is not to change people, but to change expectations,” Khan says. “You need to help them, you need to make sure that people are number one.”
Khan is fond of using the phrase, “I’m not in the chicken business. I’m in the people business.”
And it’s easy to see why. Countless stories could be told of his turnaround business triumphs, but where he really shines is in helping his more than 13,000 employees excel.
“I love helping people,” Khan says. Putting his money where his mouth is, so-to- speak, Khan has awarded 25 percent of the profits from about 15 of his franchises to their senior managers, celebrating the hard work and loyalty they have put into his company. And you won’t find Khan taking the afternoon off for a round of golf; instead he’s at his desk from morning until night, and he visits various franchises on the weekends.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? Keep pushing. “If you really, really, really want to do something, focus,” Khan says. “Everybody has a dream, a goal, an expectation, but to take it to the other side and call it success you have to have extreme discipline.”
You also can’t forget where you started. “Since I came from extreme poverty, I had a mission that nobody in my future generations should be poor,” Khan says. “So I’m moving with that mission.” To fulfill that promise, Khan is completely funding the educational needs of all his siblings’ children, ensuring his nieces and nephews will never have to face the extraordinary hurdles he once faced.
“I think if it had ever registered in my head that I had ‘made it,’ I would have stopped working like I am now,” Khan says. “But I keep poverty right in front of me all the time. It keeps me going forward through all the hoops, all the time.”
Maybe one day Aslam Kham will retire to his Southlake home to spend quiet afternoons working in his garden — a favorite hobby of his during his rare free time. But don’t count on it, at least not yet.