Off hours: How UAE Fatburger chief balances six kids with restaurant life

Andy Wiederhorn works up to 11 hours a day in the office and another two hours at home, which is perhaps why he only manages five hours sleep a night.

Andy Wiederhorn, Fatburger’s CEO. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Andy Wiederhorn is the chief executive of the Fatburger restaurant franchise, a position he has held since 2005. The former Wall Street deal maker is also a father to six children between 14 and 27. On a recent trip to Dubai from his California home, the 49-year-old discussed how he tries to maintain a work-life balance – not an easy task given that three of his children (and his father-in-law) all work for him. Fatburger has seven franchised restaurants in the UAE, most in Dubai, with plans for another 10 in the next three years.

What are your favourite things weekend hobbies?

I exercise whenever I get a free moment – running or something cardio. I also try to spend some time with my younger children. I get to see my older children all the time at work, so it’s not so pressing to spend time with them during the weekend. But for my younger children there’s usually a movie, a restaurant or just hanging out together, which are things that I enjoy.

What do you consider to be your favourite hobby?

I’m a big skier and I like to play tennis. Skiing for me is a little bit of an isolated experience. Even if you’re skiing with someone else you’re sort of individually out in nature, doing your thing. It’s a little bit of a break from phones ringing, cars honking and those sorts of things. That gives me plenty of time to chill a little bit.

What can’t you live without?

I can’t live with my phone and I can’t live without my phone. I probably get 30 or 40 calls a day, about 300 emails and maybe 50 or so texts, BBM and WhatsApp messages. That’s the biggest challenge in our business – We’re in 32 countries around the world, with 200 restaurants open and 350 more in our pipeline. And people eat 24 hours a day around the world – not just between 9 and 5. So you have to be responsive to your franchise partners and to your customers and the needs of your staff around the world. That gives a very narrow window of quiet time.

What do you consider the secret to your success?

For me it’s always been to try to hit singles and doubles, and the home runs come on their own. Just try to get the logical next step and be prepared to pivot in the right direction to go from first base to second or third.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Being an entrepreneur is a very hard thing. I generally tell people that if they want to be an entrepreneur that they shouldn’t. They should go and get a job working for someone else – they’ll be much happier. You don’t have the stress of paying the bills and employing people; you’re just focused on executing your job. Many new businesses fail. And it’s a lot of stress. I’ve spoken at many universities about being an entrepreneur and I tell them often that 99 per cent of you guys should go out and work for somebody else who’s already got an established business – and take it to a whole other level. The chances of success are greater than taking something from ground zero and getting it going. It’s those of you who are lucky, not smart, who are going to be successful at taking something from nowhere into making it into something.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

One of my philosophies is to leave your problems at work, because they’ll be there in the morning. Try explaining a discounted cash-flow model to a 12-year-old doesn’t work very well.

How do you relax after the working day?

Usually I’m in the office for 11 to 12 hours. Then I try to have some time with my friends and family for a meal or drinks, or just to talk about something other than work. And then I go back to work later in the evening – not in the office. I usually work from home. I try to work the phones for a couple of hours and make the calls I need to make, and then get however much sleep as I can find – five hours, usually.

If you weren’t chief executive of this company what else would you be doing?

I spent more than 10 years as a board member and the chairman of a child welfare organisation. And it’s something I’ve always wanted to spend more time doing. It’s helping kids who need a foster home, or adoption, or are troubled children. It’s very rewarding to see how the sooner you intervene in the problems in a young person’s life, the more of a difference you can make.

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