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Making a difference by setting an example the Primos way

Leadership is such a commonly used term that its meaning has become quite nebulous.  I can identify with the quote about leadership, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”  During the recent economic downtown, I have seen first hand how important real leadership actually is.  When times are tough, it is easy for morale to slip, which only compounds problems in an organization. It takes real leadership to keep management and employees focused, aligned and working hard to succeed. 

According to an extensive study conducted by Hay Group, a global management consultancy, trust and confidence in top leadership was the single most reliable predictor of employee satisfaction in an organization.  When you read military histories, there are countless examples of soldiers continually risking their lives to follow leaders they trusted.  Even when times are tough, great leaders will have people that will follow them into “battle” because of the trust and confidence that they have in their leadership.  This kind of trust and loyalty does not happen accidently.  It is the result of leaders who continually invest themselves in their people. One of the most impactful ways to develop this type of employee commitment is to lead by example. As any parent knows, the old saying “do as I say and not as I do” is a recipe for poor performance.  

Don Primos is a third-generation entrepreneur and restaurant owner in the metro Jackson area.  His grandfather Angelo “Pop” Primos founded Primos Bakery in 1929, and the Primos restaurants have been a part of the community ever since.  When 60 percent of restaurants close within five years of opening, it is worth noting the long-term success of the Primos restaurants.   While there are several factors that have contributed to the success of the Primos restaurants, one of the key reasons is the “hands on” leadership style of the Primos family in their restaurants.   While the days of always having a Primos at the cash register are gone, you will still find Don Primos most days working side by side with his staff. As Don describes, “I don’t ask my employees to do anything I would not do myself.” Don grew up in the family restaurant business and learned first-hand this type of leadership style. 

In 1977, at the age of 22, Don formally entered the family business with his father, Kenneth, and his brothers, Will and Ken, to operate the Northgate Primos, which was a popular restaurant and meeting place for many years until its closure in 2001.  While his brothers and father eventually exited the business, Don has continued the family enterprise.   According to Don, “As my family left the business, I knew I needed to surround myself with a loyal management team to help me meet the demands of the restaurant.”  Don’s leadership by example and personal interest in his employees has led to the creation of a family atmosphere amongst his staff.  Building a loyal team allowed Primos to successfully open a new concept restaurant, Primos Cafe, on Lakeland Drive in 2001 and a similar style restaurant on Lake Harbour Drive in 2006.      

Don’s leadership by example sets a great model for his staff and encourages a team atmosphere which he emphasizes.  A good leader helps set the pace and tone of the organization.  I continue to be amazed at how much employee’s gear their performance around the expectations and example of their leaders.  Noted leadership guru John Maxwell aptly stated, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”   I am sure that Don Primos will be showing the way for his team with his hand-on approach for many years to come and continuing to build upon the Primos entrepreneurial legacy. 


Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at mew@msbusinesslaw.com.


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