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Sonic CEO Cliff Hudson has served as chairman of the Oklahoma City School Board and chairman of the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Photo by LORI DUCKWORTH
Cliff Hudson has been CEO of Sonic, America’s Drive-In for twenty years. In this video Q&A—conducted in his car parked at a Sonic in Oklahoma City—he talks to Nate about leadership, bad advice, and banana shakes.
By Nathan Gunter
Published September/October 2015
What was your earliest leadership experience? At Webster Junior High, I was president of the boys’ glee club. When the choir director was absent, I had to lead the choir. I had to get them to warm up together and sing in four-part harmony. At thirteen, when you get your peers to respond to you, your self-concept begins evolving. That set me on a different path. Then in high school, I was student council president.
How is being a CEO like being student council president? You’ve got to get a group of people together, learn what their values are, develop a vision for where things need to go, then sell them on it sufficiently so they’ll put in their efforts—and in the case of a franchisee, their money—to help make it a reality.
What’s your biggest daily challenge? Time. You have to allocate it, prioritize it, and figure out where you can spend it so you can have the biggest impact.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got? Jeff Bauman, my corporation and business planning professor at Georgetown Law, said that when you start a new job, work your tail off. You’ve got one chance to make a first impression at an organization, and no matter how long you stay, you’ll have the reputation of being a hard worker.
What’s the worst? I won’t say who, but someone said to me in 1988 or 1989 that I should bow out of Sonic because nothing would ever come of it for me or the company.
Get There: To read more of our Q&A with Sonic CEO Cliff Hudson, pick up a copy of our September/October issue. Click here to subscribe now or call (800) 777-1793.