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Treat Others as Family: A Simple but Powerful Reminder

Taco Bell's CEO shares the extraordinary story behind a family of Taco Bell franchise owners.

Hearing stories about the people of Taco Bell - their journeys, challenges, moments of triumph - is one of my favorite parts of the job as CEO. Recently, I heard a story that struck something in me. Not only does this story make me proud to work at Taco Bell, it also reminds me of the power of humanity. It’s so good, that I knew I had to share it with the world. I hope it uplifts you in a similar way.

This is the story of two people, each looking for jobs as teenagers—as many young people do. These two extraordinary folks had just moved to California from Mexico, knowing very little English, looking to support their families. Even more extraordinary is what happened after each of them walked into the very same Taco Bell for the first time.

Meet Maria and Guillermo Zavala. Long before they shared a last name, let alone knew one other, they were separately hired by a man named Jim Payatt, a Taco Bell franchisee who gave them a shot by hiring them. They would later learn that was Jim’s way - he always gave people a chance. And if they put in the work in return, then he reciprocated tenfold.

Maria and Guillermo each worked tirelessly, from cooking beans to washing pots, and had fun doing it. So did the other restaurant employees. There was an almost magical effect that Jim had on his team members. Effort was valued and recognized, and they all fed off of each other’s energy. But his secret wasn’t so magical after really boiled down to a simple concept: treat others like family.

This mantra became even more real when Maria and Guillermo actually did become a family. A few years into working at Taco Bell together, they fell in love and got married. Guess who was there to support them along the way? Jim. He offered Maria an English tutor and encouraged Guillermo when he was nervous to interact with customers. He helped them navigate the real estate market to purchase their first home. When children came into the picture, Jim would drop by for dinner and even take the kids to car shows.

This spectacular relationship continued for 35 years. And then Jim got sick. Guillermo would take Jim to his doctor appointments and even stay the night with him when he was too unwell to care for himself. In the hospital, Maria would visit and Jim would tell the hospital workers she was his daughter. In their time together, Jim would reiterate over and over again the importance of treating others like family.

Before passing, Jim officially handed his franchise over to Maria and Guillermo in an unexpected, but unsurprising, gesture of confidence. Now owners themselves, they hope to share Jim’s legacy while carving out their own.

Jim identified a special something about Maria and Guillermo. I could see why immediately when I was lucky enough to speak to them both recently. Their authenticity is unmatched, and their passion for their restaurants, their team members and their customers is contagious. You can just hear it in their voices.

I never got the chance to meet Jim. But one thing is clear: his legacy of believing in his employees and treating them like family lives on in Maria and Guillermo. To me, this human lesson is the foundation of effective leadership. As a leader, you can only hope to earn others' belief in you. But the greatest gift to bestow is to demonstrate your belief in others. And when you do, the very people who admire you today will be the ones you admire most tomorrow.

Give our full conversation a listen here:

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