Silverman on Domino’s Theory

The best seat in the house? For Domino's Pizza young CFO Harry Silverman, it's not in the office.

Harry Silverman is the kind of finance chief who likes to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. The CFO at Domino’s pizza, a privately held business with 2000 revenues of $3.5 billion, Silverman says he likes to get out and see what’s going on at the company’s stores. It’s not real likely he’ll ever get to all of them, however: they’re currently over 7,100 restaurants in the Domino’s network.

Silverman’ career began at accounting firm Grant Thornton, where he spent five years. He then joined Domino’s Pizza in 1985, starting out as an accountant in the company’s Chicago office. A few years later, he made his way to corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1993, Silverman was named CFO — the youngest person to land the top finance post at Domino’s, one of the largest pizza companies in the U.S. In 1998, when founder Thomas Monaghan sold Domino’s to Bain Capital Inc., a private equity and venture capital firm, Silverman was named acting president of the company.

Silverman recently spoke with CFO.com’s Jennifer Caplan about what it’s like to run a franchise-driven business, the importance of operational experience, and the pressure of getting the top finance job at a multibillion company — at the tender age of 34.

You joined Domino’s in 1985 as an accountant in the company’s regional Chicago office, where you reported to a regional director of operations. Although that job involved finance, you also had to get involved in operations. Is that typical of the way Domino’s develops its finance staff?

I would say it was typical in the Eighties, as the company was growing. Starting in 1991 and 1992 we began consolidating much of the accounting. In the mid- Nineties, we brought it all up to Ann Arbor. When the company was growing like it was — we were building 1000 stores a year in the mid-Eighties — it was critical that we had not only the finance people, but also marketing, HR, and operations people very close to the stores. I think that’s really where you learn the business. From the very beginning, I was meeting with franchisees and store managers in the stores at least a couple times a week.

At 34, you were the youngest manager to land the CFO job at Domino’s. To what do you attribute your rapid rise to the top?

When I came into this business I made a huge effort to really try to understand the fundamentals of the business. I tried to get out into the stores as much as possible and spend all the time I could with the operations people, to really understand what made this business profitable. Domino’s is really an operations driven company. There are a lot of people in high places that don’t spend the time to really figure out what is going on out there.

From day one, I made that a priority for myself. Also, I always felt that to be successful I needed to work harder than anyone who reports to me. You really have to be able to lead by example. I have also been able to build a team that allows me to move away from day-to-day transactional activities, and focus instead on how to make more money for the company, how to work with franchisees, and how to solve problems.

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