His companies generate $200 million a year in sales throughout nine Western states. He employs 5,300 people and headquarters out of Colorado Springs. Who is this entrepreneur extraordinaire?

With restaurant, casino and related business operations extending throughout the West, Rick Holland, founder and owner of Wendy’s of Colorado Springs, doesn’t often grant interviews – he’s too busy doing business.

The Toledo-born Jack of all trades opened his first Wendy’s in Monroe, Michigan, in 1974. A few months later, he christened his first Pikes Peak region store at 1104 East Fillmore in 1975 – and actually managed the restaurant for a time.

Today, Holland owns 13 operations in the Midwest and another 66 stores in Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii. Wendy’s of Colorado Springs employs 3,500 people throughout nine states and another 1,800 people in other business entities.

Known for his laser-like focus, Holland’s business holdings include 79 Wendy’s restaurants in nine states, nine Golden Corral restaurants in four states, three Cripple Creek casinos, a local advertising agency – the Allegory Marketing Group – and a privately-owned distribution company.

The private business owner recently agreed to share his insights with the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s readers.

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In the following exclusive interview, he recalls the highlights and challenges of his 29-year career – and generously provides words of wisdom for today’s nascent entrepreneurs.

CSBJ: How risky was it to open your first store in Colorado Springs in 1975?

Holland: Risky? I don’t consider starting a new business as a big risk. I think more in terms of problem-solving. If you worry about taking chances, you might as well not get out of bed.

Colorado Springs was just coming out of the gas moratorium in 1975. Nothing new had been built for several years. Our first local grand opening was a very big event. The media and the mayor turned out for our ribbon-cutting. We were a little surprised but very pleased.

CSBJ: How did you finance those first Colorado Springs stores?

Holland: The Fillmore store was a build-to-suit, and we leased it back. Fortunately, I worked with Dick Daley over at United Bank to get a business loan. He believed in what we were doing – and it paid off. In our first 18 months, we opened four stores. From 1975 on, we relied primarily on cash flow to finance each new store.

CSBJ: What did it cost to build the Fillmore store?

Holland: Probably around $250,000. That’s about what a Wendy’s equipment package costs today.

CSBJ: Have you been affected by Colorado Springs’ periodic economic downturns?

Holland: Not really. We’ve been here through the moratorium and the RTC shakeout in the late 1980s. I bought out my partner in 1984 and by 1994 had built 40 stores. Spreading that economic base over diverse locations enabled us to compensate when one area was going through tough times.

CSBJ: What is your status with the Wendy’s national organization?

Holland: We are the largest single franchise in the corporation and were named the fastest-growing franchise in the entire Wendy’s system in 2002.

CSBJ: What motivates you, after 29 years, to drive so hard? Other guys would be talking about retirement?

Holland: I really enjoy creating opportunity for people. It’s not just growing the business that motivates me – it’s the chance to bring people along. We operate a very large business, but still approach it in a family-like way.

CSBJ: Are you hands-on when it comes to making operational decisions?

Holland: To some degree, yes. But I also rely on people like James Wilson, our corporate vice president, our district and area directors as well as our individual store managers.

CSBJ: How did you decide to build restaurants in Hawaii and Tucson?

Holland: The Wendy’s parent company asked me to build three stores in Hawaii. In the case of Tucson, we decided to purchase the entire 12-store market a few years ago.

CSBJ: Did you ever think when you were growing up that you’d someday be in the restaurant and casino business?

Holland: No. But I was looking for an opportunity that could be duplicated. Wendy’s proved to be an excellent business from that viewpoint.

CSBJ: You’ve owned the Midnight Rose, J.P. McGills and The Brass Ass since 1993. If you had it to do over, would you get into the casino business?

Holland: Absolutely. We just built an $8 million parking garage in Cripple Creek and remodeled the casinos’ 80 hotel rooms. It seemed like good timing to get in on the ground floor.

CSBJ: Have you been active in Cripple Creek’s overall marketing program – or do you promote your own facilities?

Holland: We promote our own casinos. My son runs Ramblin’ Express which transports visitors to Cripple Creek from southern Colorado – vital to our early marketing program.

CSBJ: Back to Wendy’s again, what kind of employee training and programs do you offer?

Holland: Training is a huge challenge. We have excellent retention programs and offer tuition assistance. So far we don’t have bilingual training, except in Tucson.

CSBJ: Do you personally get involved in recognizing long-time employees?

Holland: Yes. One of our area directors in Rapid City just celebrated a 24-year anniversary with Wendy’s. We give tenure awards for ten years and up. I try to attend most of them. We have a lot of long-time employees and enjoy providing them opportunity to grow.

CSBJ: What does the future hold? Will you ever sell your business?

Holland: I’m always looking for opportunities for people, so that frames whether or not to sell. Wendy’s does have the right of first refusal, but I am free to sell my business like any other entrepreneur.

CSBJ: What do you consider good management practices?

Holland: Lead by example. Communicate your expectations clearly. Create an environment of accountability. Always show respect – nothing else is as effective in dealing with people. Dave Thomas said, and I agree, that a good business decision may not always be the right decision. You have to give employees and managers time to mature and learn. Profit is not a dirty word – but you have to be cognizant that any decisions you make affect a lot of people.

CSBJ: Have you seen a lot of change in how you do business over the years?

Holland: Yes. There are a lot of legislative requirements and labor laws that have been passed by people with no experience in running a business.

CSBJ: So what has been your greatest challenge so far in life?

Holland: My biggest challenge was to save $5,000 when I was young and working so I could start my own business. It took a lot of discipline. Debt is okay, but only if you’re making the money to pay it off.

CSBJ: What advice would you give to up-and-coming entrepreneurs?

Holland: Don’t be afraid to try your ideas. Make a plan, and set out your objectives. Most importantly, find a mentor; it will shorten your learning curve. You may have to go look for the right mentor – someone who gets you to believe in yourself. Most people don’t believe in themselves. Stay focused on problem solving and don’t be dissuaded by analysts. If you analyze something long enough, you’ll find a reason not to do it. Ask a successful person what they did, and work hard. And remember that there are no silver bullets.