Robert Zankl, founding principal of G5 Capital Fund, talks with the Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his early career as a restaurant franchisee and new car automobile dealer, his operating experience in various industries and his current real estate projects in the United States, South America and the Caribbean.
Robert Zankl is an entrepreneur with wide-ranging experience in creating relationships and consulting within various industries. His current company, G5, is a consulting partner with a select number of notable mergers and acquisition specialists, private equity funds, debt funds and private business leaders from around the world. Zankl’s function is to screen eligible ventures for clients and various capital groups and confidently attempt to direct a successful merger, acquisition, partnership or loan formation. Specialty areas include real estate development, hotel development and acquisitions, restaurant mergers and acquisitions, gaming operations and various other sectors targeting capital and consulting needs.
“I have consulted clients within many industries and each one has the same foundation for success: have passion for what you do, utilize your relationships, think big and outside the box and, most importantly, listen to your customers’ needs,” Zankl says. He likes to credit his father, owner of multiple new car automobile dealerships and the original Wendy’s franchisee for the state of Michigan, with instilling at a very early age a sense of unwavering drive and intensity to win. “Dad is a tough businessman, a great example and one of my biggest heroes,” he says. “He taught me to think offensively and never give up on anything. If clients or people I work with don’t have the same drive, I will pass on the project. Success in any business is personality based and you must have the same passion, focus, drive, desire to learn, and intensity to succeed no matter what industry you’re in.”
Opportunist: Your experience is so vast and varied. Please tell us about your early career.
Zankl: Born and raised in Michigan with two very loving supportive parents who shaped my background and gave me a great life, a great education, and many great memories.
I worked in the family businesses from an early age and received a great taste of being surrounded by, watching and listening to very successful businessmen seek ways to grow and expand their businesses within various industries. I watched and listened with the resolute desire to be like them. A few of those same friends and associates have created brands that are household names today.
When I was in high school my father was in the automobile industry with new car dealerships in Michigan and Florida and also in the restaurant industry as the original Wendy’s franchisee for the state of Michigan. One summer I would work in the car business and the next in the restaurant business, trying to decide which direction I wanted to pursue.
When I finished my schooling I first opted to pursue the food side of the business. We began developing the Michigan market for Wendy’s and expanded that division and also launched as the Michigan franchisee for a subsidiary of Wendy’s called ‘Sister’s Chicken and Biscuits’ in 1980. At 23 years old I was the youngest franchisee in the system and opened the first Sister’s restaurant in Michigan and had opened 20 restaurants in total by the time I was 28. This was the foundation of understanding the importance of surrounding oneself with the very best talent. The quality of your team can make or break any business owner and operator, and this was an extremely valuable lesson to learn in my twenties.
I started out as a single store manager, hired the first employee and eventually built it into 20 stores and thousands of team members. It was an incredible experience and an education in developing a business one decision at a time. During my restaurant run I also returned time to the family’s automobile business and opened and operated new car dealerships with my father and brothers in Michigan, Florida and Missouri. I sold most of my automobile positions in the late 2000s, but my family is still in the industry and doing a great job.
Also, during the 1990s and up to the present, I formed G5 and began seeking real estate development deals, acquisition opportunities, and capital opportunities for commercial developers in Florida. I also began consulting in the restaurant and automobile industries, which is part of what I do today.
Opportunist: Are you still involved with the franchises?
Zankl: No. We opted out of Sister’s Chicken and Biscuits in 1985, and we sold our Wendy’s position in 1995. We were simultaneously running the restaurant locations and our new car dealerships, which became challenging across the country. It was all about the people. Finding solid and honest people to help run each division or sector of the business was incredibly challenging.
Opportunist: What are your thoughts on today’s fast food industry?
Zankl: It’s a great industry and it is continuing to grow year by year. For those getting into the business now it’s all about branding and market share.
Building a brand is a huge challenge; it’s certainly not easy, but can be done with creative out-of-the box thinking. Brands need to think big; the capital is out there for the right people with great ideas.
Opportunist: Do you believe there is still plenty of room for startups?
Zankl: I do and I’m currently involved in a few. There is always room for new ideas and new expansion in every space; you just have to make the experience something memorable. Simply building another hamburger chain doesn’t create a brand. You must entertain your clientele and make it a memorable experience. I don’t care what industry you’re in, you have to make the event outstanding in every single way.
Opportunist: What advice would you give to others to help them succeed?
Zankl: Simply … everything matters. Be passionate about what you do and that passion should reflect on your team and your clients. Also, listen and talk to your customers. So many owners don’t listen to the clients or even ask them if they’re satisfied. It’s simply amazing. They will tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Just be open enough to listen and learn.
For every business we raise money for, or consult with, we stress to the owners that each and every person who works for you represents your brand. They must be treated with dignity and respect because each team member is the face of your brand and each team member is being asked to represent you in every single business transaction. The team members are talking to your customers every single day. Those experiences, moment by moment, can make or break your business very quickly. Keep your team happy and that will define the success of the operation.
Opportunist: That seems fairly simple.
Zankl: Yes, it seems fairly simple but you would be surprised how few owners get this. Turnover will kill your business. Companies must also consistently deliver good products and great service. If your product isn’t consistent and your service is marginal, pack your bags and go to the beach. This seems simple but it becomes challenging with multiple locations.
We stress other important ideas that are critical to success. For example, companies spend huge amounts of advertising money getting customers to come through the door and then they don’t capture any information about the customer when they’re inside the business. Once a customer comes in the door you have to capture their information and then diligently find a way to get them to come back. The social mediums have made that follow up much easier. Aggressive contact while clients are in your business and then consistent follow up will drive your sales faster and less expensively than any other form of marketing. Every owner or manager needs to be involved in the day-to-day operation and talking with and ‘touching’ the customers and catching problems before they get past the exit. It’s really simple stuff and yet most owners and general managers do not have the discipline to consistently do the right thing.
It’s also extremely important to be capitalized appropriately. The reason most startups fail is due to the lack of startup capital. It’s the same foundation for success in every business—whether it’s the clothing, automobile or restaurant business, it’s the same passion that drives doing the simple things that have built some of the biggest brands in the world. Remember: everything matters.
Opportunist: Please tell us about G5 Investments.
Zankl: G5 Investments is a marketing partner, relationship partner and consulting partner of a small number of select private equity funds and merger and acquisition specialists and debt funds. We create relationships!
We use our great relationships that we have built over the years and our various areas of expertise to attempt to direct successful acquisitions, mergers, partnerships or loan formations for our clients.
Opportunist: Can you tell us about some of your projects?
Zankl: We are currently working several projects in various sectors.
We are capitalizing four hotel residential projects in Colombia, South America. We are capitalizing and co-developing a 300-key hotel residential project in the Turks and Caicos. We have a couple of U.S. based hotels we are looking to develop and a few to acquire. We are seriously considering to acquire an existing restaurant brand with 12 locations in Texas. We are excited and have many other great deals on our board for 2014.
Opportunist: What makes Colombia so attractive for you?
Zankl: The energy is intense. It’s an incredible emerging market that has an untapped commercial appeal for boutique luxury hotels. It’s an unknown territory to most United States residents and, hopefully, that changes in the near future. International travel in South America is significant and is a growth target for us in all industries we represent.
Opportunist: How did you become involved there?
Zankl: A great friend of mine, who is the developer of the hotels in Colombia, asked me to help consult him to raise the capital to build his luxury boutique brand in Colombia. We are also working on some capitalization of commercial and residential projects with him.
Opportunist: What else is in the pipeline?
Zankl: We are currently targeting several deals with several brands that I cannot mention in detail at this time. We are trying to buy a restaurant brand in Texas with multiple locations. This project looks very exciting and appealing. The owner did a phenomenal job of building a solid business over 40 years. We are in the early innings of that deal and are excited about this one.
We are also actively seeking pockets of existing fast casual food operations in Florida and have a capital fund designated to acquire units in emerging markets.
We are talking with a group of aggressive NBA players seeking to buy up existing restaurant brands. We are in the due diligence stage on a couple of projects with them and should assemble some units sometime in 2014.
Another deal we are in the middle of capitalizing is an over-the-counter medical testing method for a variety of illnesses, which is going to be an incredible advancement in the way you can test for a variety of illnesses such as HIV, diabetes, malaria, drug and alcohol use and even breast cancer. These incredible tests are affordable and don’t require a prescription.
Opportunist: How do they work?
Zankl: Simple saliva test and within minutes you have results. We are helping the company to grow into different markets and assisting them in their search for capital to develop the project.
Opportunist: Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?
Zankl: I have had many great role models whom I’ve watched and admired over the years. The list is long, but frankly I can learn from anyone with any type of experience.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks is a perfect model as he has built one of the greatest brands of any generation and is a tremendous example of never giving up on your dream. He has built a company that everybody would love to work for no matter who you are. I’m there at least three times a week. It’s a cult, for goodness sake.
He has built a brand in which every single store in the world has the same belief of high ethical standards and each ‘brand Investor’ strives to be the best they can be. He calls his team ‘brand investors’ because each face in his company is building his brand one transaction at a time. Most people don’t understand what an incredible challenge it is to accomplish what Howard has consistently achieved worldwide. His story should be required study at all levels of education.
Richard Branson always makes me smile and keeps me swinging for the fences on every single deal. This guy loves what he does, is passionate and relentless building his brand. Richard has built a brand recognition that is incredible. His enthusiasm and creativity are great examples of thinking big and that dreams can come true.
The list could go on and on, as I’m a fan of great success stories. I appreciate excellence in anything, but a person’s ability to balance and create a successful business and a successful family and home life at the same time is my biggest role model. That is very challenging.
Opportunist: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Zankl: I like what I do. Reward is generally defined on success of your efforts. Closing transactions is the goal of each project we start and when success happens our efforts are changing people’s futures. That’s very rewarding.
The other benefits that are also rewarding include traveling to different parts of the world and meeting people in other countries and various industries. That experience can be very educational.
My beautiful wife and daughter keep pushing me to live in the moment and enjoy every second of every day. Most people cannot say that—most live in the past or in the future—but I try to live in the moment with each decision.
What is most rewarding to me is that I can enjoy what I do, and take care of my family doing it.
Opportunist: What would you like to achieve in 2014 and beyond?
Zankl: We will, hopefully, close some of our existing projects and create some new exciting ones. We are focused and ready to start assembling operating assets in these industries again. Capital is flourishing and we are working with great energy and motivation.
Most importantly, in 2014 and forward, I have been working a project for several years that is the favorite of my wife, daughter and my mother. Before my mother passed away earlier this year, she made me promise that I would focus and complete their favorite project. I’m passionate and determined to make that happen and will launch this exciting brand in 2014. I can’t say much else about the project at this time other than it’s in the food and entertainment space and I plan to launch in early 2014.
Robert Zankl can be contacted at email@example.com.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @les7989.