Fran and Chris Kirley
From healthcare to donuts, building a family legacy through multiple generations
Francis Kirley is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Nexion Health, one of the largest nursing home chains in the United States. Fran’s son, Chris Kirley, is the director of operations for Kirley Management. Now, the father and son team are working together to launch the first Rise Biscuits & Donuts franchise in the Greater Baltimore area.
Chris and Fran sat down with citybizlist to talk about bringing the popular North Carolina breakfast spot up north, navigating roles in the family business, and working alongside Rise CEO and founder Tom Ferguson. (For more information about Fran, be sure to watch our interview with him recorded earlier this year).
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about running the family business as father and son. When did you two start working together?
FRAN KIRLEY: Well, Chris came to me a couple of years ago; he was working at Under Armour and said, “Dad, I’d like to get a little bit more involved with some entrepreneurial opportunities.” He and I sat down and we said, “Okay, let’s think about what’s your skill set and how I could mentor you and help you grow some opportunities.” We thought the franchise model was the easiest way to get into business, and we bought into a retail franchise, which we are in the process of closing. Retail has changed dramatically in the last couple of years and the product line was a very niche product line—it just didn’t seem to work well—but what’s impressed me over that time is Chris couldn’t have gotten a better MBA anywhere in the country by being hands-on, raising the money, putting together the budgets, finding a location, setting up and doing the project development, getting the building opened, getting it staffed, getting it operating, and then dealing with day-to-day operational issues. That’s been a tremendous growth opportunity for him and it’s been a great pleasure watching him do this. And so, as we migrated to Rise, I’m very comfortable that he developed a nice skill set over the initial franchise to be able to take that to migrate that over to Rise and the whole concept that we’ve developed.
CHRIS KIRLEY: Working with him has been a wonderful experience so far. I mean, I’ve known him my entire life, so it’s always been a learning experience with him, and having him as a boss and as a father can sometimes be challenging, but when he’s there he just has so much to teach. It’s been quite a learning experience because he just is so willing to show the ins and outs of how to be successful and how he has worked so hard to be at the position that he’s in. I don’t take that for granted at all, because I couldn’t have gotten this experience doing anything else, really. Yeah, I could’ve gone back to school, gotten a Master’s degree in something else, but being with him for the amount of time that I’m able to be with him is more experience than I’ll ever get being in any type of Master’s program or doctorate program like that. He’s great to work with, as I said, but he’s still my father, so, it’s very, very exciting to be here and to be working with him.
Q. How do you expect to find success for this new enterprise?
CHRIS KILEY: Where we see Rise being successful is it’s not just donuts—it’s both biscuit sandwiches, there will be lunch sandwiches, there will be salads. There’s more than just yeast donuts. We’ll be making cake donuts; we’ll be putting all kinds of things on top of them. We’ll be making fritters, fruit, everything.
FRAN KIRLEY: I think the difference gets back to Tom Ferguson: we’re going to make our donuts in each individual store under a very specific recipe and consistency of quality. One of the reasons I think we clicked with Tom was Tom wants to make Rise a [Malcolm Baldrige National Quality] award winner in the restaurant business. My company, Nexion—we have Baldridge award winners.
We talked about quality. It’s the quality of the product, and the product is owned by the people that sell it every day, versus having a truck pull up in the afternoon, drop off 20 dozen donuts, and here you go. The pride of ownership—the pride of making that donut—is pretty powerful. What impressed us, when we sat there one day on Saturday—and they had made 1800 donuts—we talked to the woman that had decorated 1800 of them. She was an artist at what she was doing. She was so proud because she made something that somebody is going to enjoy and appreciate today. That’s where the culture of the store becomes the center of a bakery, and watching somebody take a bite out of your donut with a smile on their face is what the team we can build will hopefully get great rewards on.
Founded in 1993, WMS Partners is the only independent multi-family office in the Baltimore area that isn’t associated with a brokerage firm, bank or trust company. Our team of approximately 50 professionals and 14 owners spanning three generations assists in the direction of our client’s financial goals and objectives and oversees in excess of $3 billion in assets.
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