By: Kaitlyn Hiltz
Today we’re continuing our Success Story Series, featuring the travels and testimonies of various RCE Visiting Executives and students from our Business Development Centers (BDCs).
We had the opportunity of catching up with Brandon Barrett, a dual Chick-fil-A Owner/Operator in Arizona. Brandon is no stranger to the Chick-fil-a, Lifeshape International, or RCE network. He grew up in the Chick-fil-A world through his father and eventually worked in a store himself in Texas. In 2005 he applied to become an Operator and received a store in Arizona. He later opened a second location in 2013. With 11 years of ownership and leadership experience, it’s good to have someone like Brandon on your team.
Lifeshape International, a non-profit organization closely affiliated with the Chick-fil-A organization has been integral in facilitating a number of international project teams to conduct entrepreneurial training, establish mentoring relationships, and provide leadership and community development. RCE has been blessed by a supportive partnership with this dynamic organization.
This past July, Brandon traveled to BDC Rwanda (for his 5th time since 2011!) as a Lifeshape Project Team Leader, RCE Ambassador, and Visiting Executive.
Brandon is passionate about getting 1v1 time with entrepreneurs, leaders, and small business owners. “It’s more personal and feels more effective that way”, says Brandon, who feels the BDC trips have become a great fit for him.
“I love Rwanda – the people, their stories; it is such a unique place, partly because of what they’ve had to come out of. The progress since even my first visit is truly incredible. The construction, the education, the drive of the people to become better; it’s really nothing short of inspiring.”
Returning Visiting Executives like Brandon get to experience the local growth and transformation first-hand. By working with students in a classroom setting, and then returning a year or two later, he’s gotten to see them out in the workplace running their established business. “There’s nothing quite like it”, Brandon tells us.
Regardless of the often dramatic cultural differences, so many of Rwandan’s business start-up challenges are the same; enabling Project Teams to still have a big impact. Also rewarding, is the ability to share and show how to apply one’s faith through business.
“There’s this huge misconception that you can be either a great Christian or a great businessman, but not both. But it’s simply not true. It’s so fun to bridge that gap and tell them how they can be both. You can really see their spirits light up as they start to believe it for themselves”, says Brandon.
Many of the students that come to the BDCs are already Christians, but it strengthens their faith and walk with Christ in a whole new way, as it becomes an integral part of their business and the role they play in it.
Brandon’s team feels it’s important to inspire them regarding the influence they can continue to have throughout the longevity of their business.
The team spent a lot of time working individually with the entrepreneurs, leading a workshop, and even getting to visit “Esther’s Aid School”, a local school for 16-22 year-olds that have been taken from the poorest villages to learn customer care, restaurant and trade skills, etc. This is one of many examples of the great connections that are able to be formed through the BDC, where everyone benefits.
Additionally, a local BDC entrepreneur named Regis, owner of the CARL Group, was fortunate to receive funding for his sweet potato foods company. Don Elam, another member of Brandon’s project team, had built a relationship with Regis during prior visits and was able to stay in touch with him to really witness the business gain traction and continue moving forward. Feeling impressed and confident in their work, Don was happy to contribute.
Brandon tells us, “Don has worked with Chick-fil-a for quite some time, so it’s pretty neat to see someone able to receive the blessings of Chick-fil-A and in turn, pass that blessing along.”
Challenges and Rewards
Like anything, BDC visits can have their challenges. For Brandon and his team, one of the hardest parts is when there’s a struggle to get the students to really open up, be coachable, or get past that initial vulnerability barrier.
“We only have but so much time with them, so it’s important they maintain a level of professionalism; showing up on time, taking it seriously, and really taking advantage of the opportunity to receive counsel.”
However, the rewards for both parties seem to far outweigh the challenges. Particularly the feeling of really having made a difference. As Brandon recalls, there are those moments where you walk away thinking, “Man, I think we really helped them”, and it surprises even yourself.
Not to mention, so many of the students, graduates, and BDC leaders have had such an effect on them as well.
“Just by hearing their stories, journeys, and tragedies we can’t imagine. All of our problems become so small in comparison. It’s impacted me as a parent, a husband, and a businessman. It really gives you a new perspective on how you live out your values and what’s most important in life.”
After talking with Brandon, it’s easy to see that the reason he’s crossed the Atlantic 5 times to visit this once war-torn country is no mystery.
“It is a life-changing experience to be able to go over there and use your gifts. It is such a good fit. Because we can build wells, teach English, support missionaries, and those things are great; maybe even more so for the visitors than the locals. But this can have such a lasting impact on a person, a community, a nation, and even an entire continent…
…These business people we’re able to help become successful are creating jobs that extend far beyond themselves. It’s not just a personal or short-term impact, but one with a ripple effect that reaches people we haven’t even had a chance to meet.”
The best part?
“It’s what we do. We don’t even have to step that far outside our comfort level because it fits right in with what we’re already doing [on the day-to-day at home]. The preparation is minimal because it’s simply about sharing our passions and experiences. I for one, am incredibly grateful for the existence of the BDC and its program”, Brandon shares.
We send our utmost appreciation to Brandon, all of the Lifeshape & Chick-fil-A Project Teams, and to everyone at BDC Rwanda. Transforming people and nations through business has always only ever been something we can do, together.