Professional Christian women constantly face challenges and uncertainty in their professional journeys. Between juggling their personal and professional lives and ascertaining their place in God’s plan for their lives, women in leadership must seek clarity, strength, and calling. Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Chicken, tells us about her career journey and the wisdom she has gleaned along the way regarding finding balance in your life.
4word: What enticed you to pursue a career in the business world?
Cheryl: Most are surprised to learn that I started college at Indiana University School of Music. My plan was to major in piano and become a high school choir director. As I look back on that time, my aspiration was to lead a group of people to create beautiful music together. My role today as a CEO of a public company is much the same – I want to bring out the best in our people to create a thriving, high-performing restaurant company. And when we come together and perform well at work, it creates the equivalent of “beautiful music” – a good work environment and career development opportunities.
When I decided to switch from music to business school in my sophomore year of college, it was inspired by my father. My dad was a leader of manufacturing in a large company called National Semiconductors. He led the operations of 16 plants in Asia Pacific at the time. He was a bold, visionary leader in a fast changing industry. He was a principled, high integrity leader who taught me as much about “how” to do business as he did about “what” to do. Our family dinner table conversations were full of discussions and lessons on business decision-making and leadership. From observing and listening to my father, I became fascinated with business leadership. Apparently, my siblings did too – as all four of us have become President or CEO of a business enterprise.
4word: You’ve had the opportunity to work with some well-known brands. What have you learned from each position you have held?
- Procter & Gamble – I learned how to write a compelling business case to convince the company to spend resources on the brands that I worked on. The writing style was terse and effective. Today my husband says that if I wrote War and Peace, it would be two paragraphs. I like that thought.
- The Gillette Company – I learned from two superb leaders here – Joel Davis was a superb brand strategist and taught me how to lead product innovation. Bob Murray was an engaging, inspiring leader, and he taught me the importance of personally mentoring young leaders.
- Nabisco – This company was a fast changing, volatile environment with many leadership and ownership changes. I learned the importance of staying focused on my work and contributing my best despite the chaos around me. I was promoted very quickly here, primarily because I got work done while everyone was chatting about change at the water cooler.
- Domino’s Pizza – The treasure of this experience was discovering the franchise owner – an entrepreneur chasing the American Dream. I fell in love with the opportunity to lead brands that franchisees invested in to new heights of performance – so that the owner could achieve success. This rewarding work has been the focus of my career for the last 18 years.
- Yum Brands – While this is a great company, it was not a good culture fit for me. I learned the importance of deep due diligence when you decide to join a company. It is very difficult to be effective in a place where you do not fit the culture of the company. This has also made me much more careful in hiring people – wanting to make sure they are a good culture fit, so that they can perform their best work.
- Popeyes – At Popeyes, I have learned the importance of leading with clarity of personal purpose and principles. When you know the purpose of your leadership, you are energized to serve the enterprise well – to give them your best efforts. When you know the principles that you want to stand for, it simplifies decision making, and it conveys a consistent leadership approach to your team.
4word: You are now the highly-successful CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Chicken, a Fortune 500 company. What has been your experience as a woman in business leadership?
Cheryl: I have often been one of a few, or the only, female leader in management or the board room. So while that has sometimes resulted in awkward moments, I feel blessed to have had these experiences. I am grateful for the leadership opportunities that I have been given by the companies I have worked for. I have been given large responsibilities, especially as a young leader, which means that people took risks on me and gave me a chance to perform. I’m grateful for these leaders who saw potential in me and took these risks. I hope I am doing this for young leaders today.
I do believe women bring valuable traits to leadership – and often different perspectives and approaches than men. Research conducted by the Gallup organization indicates that women create high engagement work environments – and high engagement leads to superior performance results. There is a business case for bringing women into leadership roles.
The one challenge that I have found as a woman leader is that we are expected walk a difficult tightrope – if we have strong views, we can be labeled emotional, yet, if we have a subtle approach, we can be labeled weak or ineffective. Women often exhibit conviction and passion differently than men. We need to give women some latitude to lead from their authentic personality and not expect them to lead like men. I talk more about women needing to be comfortable in their own skin in the video below.
4word: What challenges have you faced in balancing your work and personal life?
Cheryl: My husband Chris and I have been married thirty three years, and we have raised three grown daughters. By definition, this means we have experienced lots of challenges balancing work and life. We have moved eight times – four times for Chris’ career and four times for mine. That means our kids have had to change friends and schools multiple times. Every one of these changes was challenging in some way – but as we look back we can see the providential hand of God in each move.
In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, my girls were 9 and 15 years of age. It was a frightening and difficult time to trust God. I worried constantly about my girls – and didn’t want to leave them at such a young age. But this challenge led me to be much more intentional in my family and work life. It led me to a much deeper understanding of the preciousness of each day with my family – and also, the preciousness of the opportunity to develop leaders in the marketplace.
4word: How have you been able to share your personal faith with co-workers?
Cheryl: One of my favorite Christian missionaries said to me once – speak in Bible verses, never quote chapter and verse. Biblical teaching is central to my approach to work and life – I attempt to evidence these teachings in everyday situations, without quoting chapter and verse. I believe it is better for people to experience the love and teaching of Jesus Christ, than to hear it preached by your boss. Overt evangelism can be perceived as haughty and judgmental. The Bible teaches us to recognize our own sin nature and humbly acknowledge we are saved by God’s grace alone – we are not “better than others.” The Bible also teaches us to love one another, for love is from God. These two principles govern the way I talk about my faith at work.
If you know your team well and spend a lot of time with them, you will have many opportunities to mention how faith impacts your life – and opportunities for people to ask you about your faith. I look for these natural moments in a trusted relationship – and offer words of encouragement to those seeking deeper knowledge or deeper faith.
4word: What advice do you have for professional Christian women?
Cheryl: I have watched so many young women leaders struggle with their decision to work, be married, and raise a family. I struggled with these same decisions. To have a covenant marriage, to raise your children with strong faith, and to contribute your best in the workplace is a big commitment, for both men and women.
The best advice I can give women struggling with this balancing act is to make sure you take the time to ascertain your calling from God. I believe each person is uniquely created to do certain work for the Creator. When we understand what this work is – through study and prayer – we can give it our full attention. Clarity of calling eliminates a great many of the conflicts we feel in daily life.
For me, I came to understand that God has created me to teach the next generation of leaders how to lead with competence and character in all aspects of their lives, work and family included. This understanding has helped me focus on the same thing – whether I am talking to one of my three daughters – or talking to young leaders in the workplace.
This calling doesn’t make every tough decision for me – but it helps me stay in a grateful place about the work God has given me. Gratitude is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety in daily life. Ann Voskamp teaches this in a powerful way in her book One Thousand Gifts, a must read for busy Christian women.
As Cheryl stated, being a professional woman comes with a unique share of struggles, experiences, and opportunities. No matter your level at your company, as a professional Christian woman you will be faced with roadblocks along your professional journey. Learn from Cheryl’s example and focus on finding God’s calling for your life, both professionally and personally, so that you can navigate successfully around those roadblocks.
What “roadblocks” have you faced in your career? How were you able to navigate around them?
Cheryl A. Bachelder is a passionate restaurant industry executive serving as the CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. Ms. Bachelder is known for her crisp strategic thinking, franchisee-focused approach, superior financial performance and the development of outstanding leaders and teams. The Popeyes leadership team has worked closely with franchise owners to accomplish a remarkable turnaround in the business – with restaurant sales up 25% and restaurant profits up 40% in the last five years. In 2012, Ms. Bachelder was recognized as Leader of the Year by the Women’s Foodservice Forum and received the highest industry award, the Silver Plate, for the quick service restaurant sector. In addition to serving on the board of directors for Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., Ms. Bachelder serves on the board of directors for Pier 1 Imports, Inc., since 2012, and the advisory board of Agile Pursuits Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, since 2009. She served on the Board of the National Restaurant Association May 2009 – 2012. Ms. Bachelder has a B.S. in Business Administration as well as a MBA in Finance and Marketing from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.