Chief Hugs Officer (Creating A World Of Success – Part 2)

How Dreams & Happiness are Becoming the New Business Imperatives

Dateline – Hiawatha, Iowa

Among the storefronts of an otherwise unremarkable strip mall, one door carries no sign and its windows display no products. Otherwise indistinguishable from the countless cookie-cutter replicas that dot America’s suburban commercial districts, what makes this mini-mall and this storefront different, is the very particular executive who’s working there. Sitting alone, seamlessly moving between the laptop keystrokes, tablet and smartphone taps and whiteboard scribbles, Jerry Akers is thinking, tinkering and working to create a different kind of company.

A decade ago, with a successful and financially rewarding career already behind him, Jerry’s unbridled energy and heartfelt desire to help others succeed, made him a poor candidate for retirement. So, Jerry and his wife Mickey left their corporate pasts behind and decided to operate a small local business. At least that’s how it started. Never having run a retail operation and with no prior cosmetology or franchise experience, Jerry became an owner-operator of a Great Clips franchise.

Today, Great Clips has become the world’s largest hair salon brand and Jerry has become one of its most successful franchisees. What sets Jerry apart can’t be found in a profit and loss statement, can’t be expressed in a spreadsheet and doesn’t show up in an earnings call. Jerry wants to help peopleparticularly the young stylists he and his wife are dedicating their lives to.

In a far-ranging interview, Jerry recounted his personal journey as a young executive; how he’d followed the teachings of Zig Zigler and John T. Molloy to learn everything from how to get what you want to dressing for success.

Three decades later, having moved from style to substance, Jerry embraces practical and tactical ideas and rejects things that “might sound good in a lab but doesn’t necessarily work in the real world”. Jerry humbly suggests that the business would continue to be successful without him, the Akers’ daughters now run the day-to-day operations and Jerry’s wife Mickey has assumed the role of Chief Hugs Officer – the one that makes sure every employee understands how valuable they are.

What’s Jerry’s role? Changing the lives of others.

Whether he’s working with one of his employees, or another franchisee or teaching basic business skills to young people, Jerry is driven to help others succeed.  “What I’ve found about myself, is that I really just love changing people’s lives…” Jerry shared. Helping other people is not only good for the soul, it’s good for business as well, “if you can impact the life of an employee and their family, they’ll never leave you.”

Akers’ philosophy is translating directly to operational performance including a cutting-edge recruiting program that not only helps cosmetology students learn the beauty business but also ensures Jerry’s business enjoys a steady stream of the best talent. In addition, he’s created a unique bonus and incentive program that gives employees control over the speed and trajectory of their careers and how much they earn.  All of which has not only contributed to making Akers’ operations profitable, but has also generated an off-the-charts long-term employee loyalty rate exceeding 70%.

Reflectively, Jerry pauses and sums up the secret to his success as simply, “We’re successful because our salons have gotten happier.” That happiness starts with the first question Jerry asks each new hire, What big dream do you have that working here can help you achieve?

Know any people-first business leaders that are redefining success in your world? Share your stories with me directly at

Until next week,

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