Like Gail Haynie, when Chuck Schoenjahn started at Pizza Hut 40 years ago, things looked a bit different. Chuck’s first day at Pizza Hut was only seven years after the company premiered the famous red roof. Today, there are roughly 6,300 Pizza Huts, many of which still have the red roof; and just as the company has grown, so has Chuck’s reputation—he now supports nearly 100 franchisees and provides IT support to their point of sales (POS) systems, helping make sure the payment process runs smoothly when hungry families stop in for a meal. “Chuck is the cornerstone holding everything together,” says Jeff Volpert, Senior Group Leader at Pizza Hut.
Chuck started at Pizza Hut in Wichita, Kansas while he was in the Air Force. He was stationed at the local base, and though the base kept him busy with a variety of jobs, he found that he was still looking for something to fill his time. A friend worked at Pizza Hut, and recommended that Chuck check it out. He recalls, “I remember walking into the back kitchen for the first time and a waitress came around to say they were out of salad. Back in those days, the servers had a salad station up front where they could make the order themselves and bring individual salads out to the dine-in customers. Her station was out of lettuce; so, my first job was cutting lettuce.”
Chuck left the Air Force in 1978, around the time the economy wasn’t so great and people were having a rough time finding jobs. He liked Pizza Hut, and the headquarters back then were also located in Wichita—just a mile up the road from that first restaurant Chuck had worked in part-time. “I got a job pretty quick. I liked working with the people and running my own business. I enjoyed that and have kept liking that for all these years.” He makes it sound easy, but that first store was just the beginning of a series of changes for both Chuck and the company.
When we asked Chuck what milestones stand out in his mind, the first two that he identifies are big changes for the company. Chuck’s dedication to the brand is shows again when he talks about his third milestone—picking up and moving from Wichita to Dallas (when the Pizza Hut headquarters moved) after 22 years in Kansas. Truthfully, Chuck says, “it took some convincing on my part to make the trip. Career-wise it was the smartest thing I ever did. I got to meet different people, try a new city, and prove to people that I could relocate and do as good a job as before.” And, eight years ago, Chuck proved his loyalty once more by moving to Louisville (where Yum! is headquartered).
When I asked Chuck to tell me the secret to his 40 years of success, he has some good advice for anyone starting their career. “Don’t be so concerned about your career. Do your job, take care of your customers, and the career will take care of itself. It takes people a while to digest that, but one of the things that has really kept me here for so long is taking care of people. My big joy right now is that everyone on the team has certain franchise groups that we take care of, and we have built a really strong relationship with each group. They trust us. If I think the path they’re taking is wrong, we’ll tell them. But, I will always end my advice by telling them whatever decision they make, we’ll support them.”
And, in true Pizza Hut style, Chuck has great things to say about the people on his team. “The people here at the help desk are all wizards. I know whatever happens, no matter how stressful or desperate times get, there someone here who has the answer and who is going to help me out. The trust level that I’ve built over the years is a good feeling.”
That same team was so excited to celebrate Chuck’s 40 year milestone with a surprise party. Check it out!