Charles Watson | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Charles Watson


Charles Watson became the chief development officer for Tropical Smoothie Café and Tin Drum Asian Kitchen in 2015. He joined the company in 2010. A veteran hospitality professional, Watson has worked for several hospitality companies, including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Intercontinental Hotels Group, U.S. Franchise Systems, Inc. and Hospitality Real Estate Counselors. 

The Mistake:

When I was working with our CEO around 2012, I was the vice president of franchise development for Tropical Smoothie. This was when we were trying to get Tropical Smoothie off the ground. We had 250 or 300 locations at the time.

I’m a business-school graduate, so I focus on the whole organization. The CEO and I were in a budget meeting one time with marketing, operations, etc. During the meeting, I went into a long speech I thought was team-oriented. I said, “I have this large amount of money in our budget, and I want you to know that if you have a project going on in your department that would benefit my department, I’d be willing to take some of my budget dollars and transfer them into your area of the business.”

I thought a team-focused message was good. But my CEO told me later, in a one-on-one, that he wasn’t pleased with the discussion. He relied on me to focus on the growth of the business, so I shouldn’t be willing to give up the budget for something so important. It’s about looking at how to drive the growth of the business. The focus of our company over the past eight years has been growth, and I had missed that.

The message was: You shouldn’t have extra budget. You should be using it to its highest potential — and even asking for more budget. The hot button for our CEO was growth, and here I am, the growth guy, saying that I’ll give my budget to other areas of the organization.

Know what your CEO’s hot buttons are and be aligned with your leader.

The Lesson:

Know what your CEO’s hot buttons are. Do everything you can to answer anything around those hot buttons and to be aligned with your leader. If you’re not and can’t get there, you’re not in the right organization. I’m in sales, so I always look for what’s important to somebody.

The leader is [in charge] for a reason and might know things you don’t. You’re either on board with that or you’re not. There are certain goals. That’s why the sales department usually gets more budget. Decreasing your budget is, in essence, saying, “I’m not in agreement with what you want to do.”

After that one-on-one with my CEO, I focused a lot more on aligning with leadership. It’s really about making sure you know when to push and when not to. I’m a C-level person, so I’m involved in strategic discussions. You have to know the business objectives, and you have to align what you’re doing in your department with the overall goals of the business. Deal with where you fit into that puzzle.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe is on Twiiter: @TSmoothieCafe, and so is Tin Drum Asian Kitchen: @TinDrumKitchen.

Photo courtesy of Charles Watson

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