bubba-gumpThe $350 million dollar seafood company Meridian Products was clearly among the leaders in the industry as it relates to serving seafood in U.S. restaurants. The company excelled at selling Mexican shrimp, Australian lobster tails, Russian and Alaskan king crab, but they were starting to be bypassed because technology enabled other producers to connect directly to buyers at retail and restaurant chains. This not only impacted profit margins and sales, but also affected their relationships with packers and large restaurant companies. All of this was resulting in a decline of sales and profit margins. Rick Martin, the owner and CEO of Meridian, brought me in to see what I could do to slow the erosion of margin and sales. I dove in with all the enthusiasm I had with my last two successful turnarounds but slowly realized nothing standard was working. Six months into the turnaround, after I deployed all the traditional approaches, I realized we were still failing. I had decided I was going to tell the CEO on Monday that I didn’t think the company could be saved. Then on the Sunday prior I happened to see the movie “Forrest Gump” starring Tom Hanks. There was a scene in the movie with Bubba cleaning the floor and telling Forrest that you can make chili shrimp, Cajun shrimp, Creole shrimp and I immediately thought, that’s it! We need to brand Meridian shrimp as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and in fact we need to get Meridian to be the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

The very next morning I parked myself in front of the guard gate at Paramount Pictures/Viacom and told everyone who went in, “I’m waiting right here for as long as it takes to speak with someone about licensing the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. name.” After waiting for nearly 10 hours a women called and said she would meet me. She asked what I wanted and I told her I wanted the U.S. and international rights to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. She said there were no licenses out for the movie so I told her I would take whatever she would give me.

That afternoon, I walked out of the Paramount Pictures/Viacom Melrose Avenue offices with an agreement and a license to use the brand Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The next morning we called everyone in the company together and went to work converting existing inventory and packing to ship Bubba Gump Shrimp brand shrimp to retailers nationwide. At one point we had more than 3,500 retailers involved in a contest to make their entire seafood counters themed with Bubba Gump. Retailers built boats and hung nets to decorate; the response was incredible and the shrimp was selling like crazy. The retailers loved the attention and the sales. The company was re-born, re-energized and now very profitable with higher margins and accelerating sales.

BubbaGumpPVFor further growth and to utilize the buzz from the movie and the shrimp we were making we looked for a restaurant chain partner. I found one we could convert but it was 300 restaurants and Paramount was concerned it might be too much. So then I called my friend Gordon Miles, chairman of Paragon Restaurants (Rusty Pelican), to build a restaurant theme around the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. He was intrigued but he also was in bankruptcy and his management team felt that Rusty Pelican was a better brand and resisted the thought of Bubba Gump. However, Miles was an optimistic leader and his persistence paid off when we successfully opened the first Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant in Monterey, California.

In the end, we had two successful turnarounds with this project. Con Agra bought Meridian Products and Miles successfully pulled Rusty Pelican out of bankruptcy with the success of the first Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant that is now a global restaurant chain of 40 high-volume restaurants producing upwards of $400 million in revenue.