Finding Sustainable Solutions through the Hero’s Journey: Brian Schultz, CEO Studio Movie Grill

Brian Schultz, CEO of Studio Movie Grill, reveals some personal insights about facing a significant hurdle, and how he was able to not only survive, but thrive in the wake of it by drawing upon Conscious Capitalism principles to find solutions. 

Meet Brian Schultz, CEO of Studio Movie Grill:

At the 2018 Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, Brian shared a piece of how his story, as a CEO of a company that believes deeply the power of serving all stakeholders, came to be. Imagine ,if you will…  

It was just days before Brian’s wedding. He was doing all the last minute things grooms-to-be often do; running around to pick up family members and finishing up the litany of odds and ends, when his best friend and business partner called and asked him to attend an important meeting. Brian pushed back, “Can’t we put this off till afterwards?” He was told it was necessary for him to be there. So, Brian put his wedding To-Do list aside and went straight to the meeting.  

Arriving in board shorts and flip flops, he found himself in a boardroom full of attorneys, and it’s here, he tells us, that he learned a new lesson. “I learned about something called the ‘Golden Rule’. It wasn’t the golden rule I always knew about; it was, ‘He who has the gold, makes the rules.” He found out that day that he had gone from being a 51% owner in his own business to a 4% owner because of this new golden rule. With everything going on, Brian asked the group if it would be possible to put everything on hold till after he returned from his honeymoon. With the pause button on, he was able to leave that scene behind and escape to an island to enjoy his honeymoon with his new wife, Betty.

They were still able to enjoy themselves with the knowledge that this was going on in the background. But it came to a halt when he received a call from the mainland. One of his managers reached out to let him know that this group (the one with all the gold) had fired all the employees and taken over the operations.

In a moment, Brian’s world seemed to turn upside down. He had gone from everything moving in the right direction – he was married to a wonderful woman, he was a successful business owner, he was enjoying an incredible honeymoon –to losing control over his own company.

He candidly tells us that he went to a really dark place. He felt the world was conspiring against him. Betty supported him for a few minutes in this necessary endeavor, which they later called a “pity party”, before redirecting his energy to the future and the process of finding solutions. 

The Hero’s Journey

Brian turned to the lessons of the silver screen. After all, this is an area he knows well. 

We started thinking about the solution, and where do you think the ideas for the solution came from? Well, at this point, I had five years where I had been watching at least 100 movies a year so my ideas started to come from the lessons that I had learned through the Hero’s Journeys of all the characters that I’d seen… What happens in every Hero’s Journey is that you get to know the characters a little bit, they have a good life, and then they hit a hurdle. By being able to pull out and frame it as a hurdle, I was able to objectify [my situation] and started working on a solution. Then I used some of those stories to put into action a plan to get us back on the path.

The Hero’s Journey is about the transformation that takes place when a person (the hero) is forced to leave behind the world they know and enters into the dangerous unknown, encounters significant challenges/faces their deepest fears, overcomes the challenge/fears, discovers their Higher Purpose, and returns transformed and victorious. 

Brian was able to frame his situation within the context of a Hero’s Journey, and with that mindset, he channeled the timeless lessons of the silver screen extolling the highest values of humanity - creativity, honesty, discipline, fairness, love, loyalty, courage, patience, perseverance, trust, respect, optimism, empathy, integrity, responsibility, purpose, generosity, self-discipline, forgiveness, gratitude, reliability - to inspire a plan of action.

He realized, through his own journey, that movies are more than entertainment. They are a “temple” for the celebration of these highest of human experiences. He tells us, “I started realizing the impact that movies have.”

Finding the Sustainable and Profitable Pathway

Brian opened his first Studio Movie Grill in 1993. Since opening, Brian has believed in a business’s ability to make a positive impact in the world. Today, Studio Movie Grill exists to open hearts and minds, one story at a time, and endeavors to be a transformative experience for team members and guests every day with numerous community outreach activations and a nurturing team culture. 

As he faced the challenges in his journey, he used Conscious Capitalism as a guide. The philosophy gave him a launchpoint to start asking himself the questions: 

How can we use movies as a force for good? 
How can we use movies as a platform to cause a positive wake?

Brian and his team jumped right into answering these questions, and in his own words, “We screwed it up in a pretty major way”.  At first, they decided to be a force for good by donating film showings.

It made me feel amazing. I made all these donations; we’d bring in school groups,we’d bring in underprivileged kids, we’d bring in individuals who wanted to learn more about religion. You name the topic; I just said “Yes”.... and I couldn’t figure out why our team wasn’t excited about this... Employees weren;t showing up for the events. Why wouldn’t they want to be involved in this incredible inspirational film?

Brian confesses that it took him a while to figure out the issue. Service staff make their money on tips, but his servers weren’t making money when everything was donated. 

He quickly realized how important all the pieces were; it wasn’t enough to donate the films, the servers also needed to feel good about it, and they weren’t feeling good about working for almost no pay. The vendors needed to feel good too; they needed to sell food. 

With this realization, Brian and his team made adjustments based on the stakeholder orientation model, asking the questions:

How can we be sure everyone has skin in the game?
How can we make sure that the community is connected and involved?

With these questions in mind, they re-visited their approach. They discovered that the solution was to donate the facility but require that attendees pay for food and beverage. With this iteration, the servers were working to earn tips and had the opportunity to both support themselves and be proud of the work they were contributing to by bringing these offerings to the community, and the vendors had the same experience. 

This was a game changer for Studio Movie Grill, leading to their “win five” stakeholder model that proudly affirms Studio Movie Grill’s stakeholder priorities: “Committed to our guests, team members, communities, vendors, and investors”. 

Brian explains how the win five model works  and how they’ve been able to create a conscious business that works for everyone:

If it’s not a win 5, it’s not sustainable; it has to be profitable for everybody, so that you can do it more. So that you can be more successful, so that you can keep on giving. And now that we’ve dialed into this model where all the stakeholders win, we don’t really have to say no. We actually just keep on going, and going, and going. What’s great about this is that it’s profitable for everybody, and it’s gotten so successful that we actually have, what we are calling a “super hero”, in each town, where we’re recognizing people with these awards and they become advocates so in every location, every city, every community we go to, we have a Super Hero who pushes these things through and instead of advocating our position, Studio Movie Grill stands as a platform for creating a positive wake in the world, actually executing others views verses our own, and that helps us multiply.

Reflection Questions

The following reflection questions are designed to help you think more deeply about Brian’s story and potentially apply some of the insights revealed to your own life and practice of Conscious Capitalism. It may help to answer these questions in a journal, or simply find a quiet space to reflect for a few minutes.

  • It helped Brian to think of his situation in terms of a “hurdle” or an obstacle to be overcome. In what ways, if any, have you come up against similar obstacles, and how – if at all – did you overcome them?
  • Did you learn anything about your personal strengths and values through this process?
  • Were you able to apply those lessons to the work you do? 

Discussion Questions

Now that you’ve reflected on Brian’s story as well as your own story, you may want to bring some of these questions to other members of your team.

  • It helped Brian to think of his situation in terms of a “hurdle” or an obstacle to be overcome. What are some of the more challenging obstacles we have faced, and how did we overcome them?
  • In what ways did we grow from this process?
  • Can we do more to build those lessons into the work that we are doing?
  • Have we built a culture of innovation? Does the team feel free to try new ideas and explore applying new solutions?

Additional Resources

  • Finding Sustainable Solutions through the Hero’s Journey, Brian Schultz, CEO of Studio Movie Grill, 2018 Conscious Capitalism Annual Conference Video
  • How to Apply the Heroic Journey to Business Article
  • How Studio Movie Grill is Letting Conscious Capitalism Lead Article