One afternoon in summer 2012, the new CEO of Friendly’s Ice Cream, John Maguire, got a call from the company’s longtime public relations chief, Maura Tobias. The Today show was going to do a story, Tobias said, and it wasn’t going to be good news.
On the show, Consumer Reports would be releasing the results of a survey of nearly 48,000 customers of popular restaurant chains. Friendly’s would get low marks for both cleanliness and service, and an editor from the magazine was going to slam Friendly’s live, in front of 4.5 million viewers – many of whom were parents of young kids, the exact demographic the fresh-out-of-bankruptcy company needed most.
At Friendly’s headquarters in Wilbraham, the then 46-year-old Maguire sat in his office and puzzled over what to do. He’d arrived a few months earlier from a job as chief operating officer at Panera, a chain he’d spent almost two decades helping build into one of America’s most successful, but this was his first shot as CEO.