A class of senior business majors at Framingham State University is learning about business strategy this semester from the former Chair and CEO of Ponderosa, Inc., which was at one time the largest steakhouse chain in the U.S.
Gerald Office, Jr. co-founded Ponderosa in the 1960s and oversaw its growth from a single restaurant to more than 700 locations throughout the U.S., Europe and the Far East. Office took the company public in 1968 and it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972. Under his watch, the company’s system-wide revenues increased from less than $3 million to more than $800 million.
Office left the company after it was acquired by a private equity group in 1987, which proceeded to nearly destroy the business.
“They made an offer too good to pass up,” Office said. “They made decisions about the business based on economics, cutting quality and eliminating jobs because they took on so much debt, and ultimately they couldn’t service the debt.”
Since leaving Ponderosa, Office has been involved with several startup companies and businesses, serving as an advisor or on the Board of Directors. He has also given lectures at universities, including Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Purdue and NYU.
This semester he is teaching Business Strategy and Policy to a group of seniors at Framingham State University.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Office said. “The students are interesting and ask challenging questions. As second semester seniors, they’re definitely thinking about the future. Some have jobs in mind and some plan on attending graduate school.”
Office, who has a business degree from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Ohio State University, says he often draws on his own experience in class.
“I’ve had experience with a lot of things that the textbook is talking about,” Office said. "Not only my experience at Ponderosa, but I’ve served on the boards of public banks and national chains.”
Office said one of the best pieces of advice he can give students about running a company is to recruit and hire good people.
“Especially with a large company, you need to surround yourself with good people you can rely on,” he said. “The current CEO of Wendy’s and the former CEO of Jack in the Box worked at Ponderosa. We had a lot of good talent and that is one of the things I’m most proud of.”