At 16, Jitin Choudhury's job was cleaning up at Blimpie in Westbury. Today, at 27, he owns a Blimpie in East Meadow.
He learned store management in his two years in Westbury and moved on to stores in Freeport and Hicksville. In 2007 he was hired as the manager in East Meadow. When the owner retired last year, Choudhury bought the franchise.
"Blimpie is what I know. I always thought one day I would own a store," says Choudhury.
With his savings and financial support from family, last November his dream came true. However, transitioning from employee to owner, with new responsibilities for managing those he had worked side by side with, proved challenging.
"Being in the owner's shoes is different," he said. "As a manager you think week to week, but as the owner you have to think big picture. Where will you be a year from now?"
Experts say the change is significant. "Your mind-set must shift from contributor to a leader," says Marsha Ershaghi Hames, a practice leader at LRN, a New York-based governance advisory firm.
Relationships are key. "You must transition your relationships with employees from that of a friend, and sometimes a close friend, to a boss. A new owner also needs to develop 'sounding board' relationships with other business owners," says Marc Newman, a partner in the accounting firm Anchin, Block and Anchin in Manhattan.
Clarify mission, plan
The new owner should present the company's mission and strategic plan from his or her point of view, even if it's essentially the same as the previous owner's, and share it with the entire staff, says Leslie Hild, a vice president at Right Management, a workplace consultant firm in Manhattan.
Choudhury has had a full plate. He renegotiated the lease and renovated the store, painting the kitchen, changing the floor, adding pictures and televisions. His world includes payroll, permits, utilities, insurance, paperwork. While he still works alongside employees, he hunkers down in his office, which proved to be a sticking point.
"Some felt I was not pulling my weight like when I was the manager. I talked to them and explained that, being the owner, I had to do other things. When you're an employee, you're not worried about the bills. You get your paycheck and go home," says Choudhury.
He says one employee, who had worked with him for more than five years, didn't accept him as owner. She challenged procedural changes he made, such as how the bread was prepared. Choudhury chalked it up to jealousy. She quit, but because she was vital he re-hired her. However, she remained uncomfortable, and a few months later he fired her. Employee issues evaporated.
Talk with employees early
As much as business responsibilities like watching cash flow and inventory are critical, people management is atop the must-get-right list. Having one-on-one sessions with employees to establish expectations and set goals is essential in the first 90 to 120 days, says Hild.
There may be the inclination to "undersupervise" because of fear of being too bossy, but that's a mistake, as is failure to delegate, says Megan Moran, a human resources specialist with Insperity, an HR and business solutions provider with a Manhattan office.
Listening to employees' suggestions and complaints, and taking action on them, can ease negative feelings and create a team culture, says Hild.
A new owner should look in the mirror and ask himself whether he has the necessary skills to run the business, adds Newman. Coaching may be beneficial. Managerial missteps can kill a company's culture.
Despite the challenges, Choudhury says his first year is a success. Sales this summer were 15 percent to 20 percent higher than those in summer 2012. He projects sales of more than $300,000 for 2013. What he's learned most, he says, is patience. "Without patience you can't be successful."
While he has a bit less time for his hobbies of playing billiards and hitting in baseball batting cages, he says he's used to working hard; now he's working hard for himself.
Mostly though, he's happy. More importantly, he sayd, "I want my employees to be happy, so they'll make customers happy."
At a glance
Company: Blimpie franchise in East Meadow
Owner: Jitin Choudhury
Owner since: November 2012
2013 revenue (projected): $300,000