David Smith seems to be in on a secret to finding work/life balance. In addition to his demanding role as chief operating officer of the growing Rising Roll Gourmet  sandwich chain, Smith has his eye on snagging another prize.
For the past three years, Smith (pictured, right) has beat out thousands of competitors to qualify for the annual Field & Stream Total Outdoorsman Challenge  (TOC). Widely regarded as the nation’s premier competition for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts, the TOC puts finalists through a range of outdoor disciplines including angling, archery, and shooting. Smith finished sixth overall last year. Now he’s looking to clinch a place on the podium and hopes that success will rub off on the business as the chain is poised to roll out nationally this year.
Competition is par for the course in the C-suite, but Smith maintains that any hobby that pushes someone to personal excellence, whether that’s cultivating tomatoes or training for an Ironman Triathalon, can have a positive effect on work. “Some might think I’m silly for spending two weeks trying to hit a target, but the stress is too high if you only care about work,” says Smith. Having another focus, he says, is better for the team and makes it easier to get motivated to achieve business goals.
Creating a Culture of Motivation
It starts with hiring. Smith says he never offered a position at Rising Roll Gourmet to anyone who can’t answer what they love to do outside of work. It’s always the last question in his interviews: “What gets you fired up? I look for someone who can answer that immediately. If they can’t I’m not inspired to bring them on board.”
Smith considers himself fortunate that his business partner and president of Rising Roll Gourmet Mike Lassiter shares that thinking. “He’s a competitive runner, and when it’s time for him to go [to a race] I pick up the slack. We support each other.
Likewise, as the father of two young children, he grabs “15 minutes here or an hour there,” to train so he can spend the rest of his time at home with his kids. “It makes me happier guy.”
Achieving Overall Excellence
Smith explains that the TOC tests competitors on seven different disciplines over the course of a week. Endurance is the name of the game. “Whether you win is not about one event, it’s how you score overall,” he says.
In his first year of the competition, Smith killed it shooting skeet. He cleared the rack and drew immediate attention from the hosts of the televised show. With the cameras bearing down, Smith’s nerves set in. “I tanked, I just blew it thinking I have no chance.”
He’s kept that in mind as Rising Roll Gourmet launched in 2006 and tried to grow during the darkest days of the recession. “Our efforts were full of setbacks. One week of great news then the next you have challenges such as site selection or loss of a prospect,” says Smith.
“I learned that one bad event doesn’t put you out. If I miss one target, I still have more chances. Just like if we put a dud product out there, let’s get a better one next time. We have to have confidence overall in our brand. All it takes is one big fish to get back in the game.”
Faith and Patience
For Smith, that lesson found another way into his work. “You absolutely have to believe in what you’re doing. If you know the river is full of big fish, you can fish with confidence,” he says, and that helps him keep trying even when a new product isn’t well received.
“If at any time I didn’t believe the concept was right, then I couldn’t have that patience. We just know we have the right offering and that keeps us focused.”
Deer Hunting, Brand Building, and Knowing It's Time for Change
Smith says it takes time to build brand equity, and a year seems like a very long time to wait for Rising Roll’s expansion plan to be in full effect. But he’s just as convinced this is the right thing to do as when he signed on with the company in 2006.
Back then he was senior director of franchising with Heavenly Ham, a job he loved because he “just knew it was the best tasting” ham. But after 15 years with the company, he was tasked with dismantling and converting franchisees to their new owner, Honeybaked Ham, a competitor that didn’t win Smith’s personal taste test.
During that time, Smith was going to lunch at Rising Roll Gourmet at least twice a week and loving their sandwiches and salads. Even though he had an “awesome” job with a great salary, Smith recalls, “I thought Rising Roll is where I belong.”
Making the switch was simple, says Smith, “If you are deer hunting you’ve got to wait them out all day. If you lose confidence in your place, move to different patch of woods.”