“As a business owner, I have always been extremely community involved. For me, getting into politics was a natural extension of my community work.”
Joe Preston believes that giving back to the community is the price you pay for living there, and it’s the right thing to do. The former Member of Parliament (MP) served the Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ontario riding from 2004 to 2015 before retiring three years ago. Though he successfully ran and won four times, entering the world of politics wasn’t something he thought much about.
A businessman at his core, Preston began working at The Wendy’s Company in 1978 at the restaurant level, eventually moving to the corporate office shortly after, where his responsibilities in the Operations and Training department involved teaching on-boarding franchisees how to find success within the company. In 1990, he applied the lessons he taught to his own life, leaving head office to open his first Wendy’s location in St. Thomas.
More recently, Preston started his own all natural and gluten-free company appropriately titled Living Alive Granola. Though he says starting a business from scratch is an adrenaline rush, he continues to operate his Wendy’s location today, and stands by the security that comes with investing in the franchise business model.
“The worst thing an entrepreneur is good at is asking for help and admitting they don’t know the answers to all the questions,” he says. “For that reason alone, a franchise is a safer business than a complete startup because it has a built in answer board. Somebody has already made the mistakes and has planned out procedures so those mistakes don’t happen again.”
So, for the better part of the last 30 years, Preston has successfully managed his Wendy’s restaurant – even operating two other Wendy’s restaurants along the way – and has actively worked to make positive change in his community.
No stranger to giving back, Preston and his operating partner, Marcy Pearse, are strong supporters of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and actively fundraise for the initiative at their St. Thomas location. The entrepreneur has also volunteered with various organizations from the Untied Way to the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce, and knows no boundaries when it comes to community service.
Preston currently sits on the Chair of the Board of Directors for Farmtown Canada, which strives to eradicate human trafficking and rescue victims. He and former MP Joy Smith also developed legislation in Parliament and volunteered together at the Joy Smith Foundation, which also works to prevent human trafficking and educate Canadians on the topic.
“As a business owner, I have always been extremely community involved,” he says. “For me, getting into politics was a natural extension of my community work.”
It wasn’t until the age of 48 that Preston decided to enter his name into the political mix with the intention of helping to create improved federal legislation that would benefit all Canadians. With no relevant experience or education in his back pocket, Preston was an outlier in the world of government, where newcomers typically begin their political careers at a young age.
But what he lacked in experience and education, he made up for in community involvement and a fundamental understanding that being conscious of ones surroundings is at the core of any successful politician and business owner.
If there are any similarities between running a small business and working in government, Preston says it’s customer service. “From a political perspective, if you don’t do a good job serving your constituents you won’t be re-elected,” he explains. “The same is true in business. I would not have been able to grow my Wendy’s locations had it not been for an exemplary level of customer service.”
He also says being aware of what is happening in your community is as important for small business owners as it is for someone looking for your vote. Just as a politician needs to be well versed in employment and housing issues affecting their constituents, franchisees should also make an effort to learn about these subjects in order to adapt their business goals to align with the needs of the community.
Today, Preston is known for sharing his industry knowledge with young entrepreneurs, mentoring them on the ins and outs of the world of business and even teaching them lessons they won’t learn in business school.
“The entrepreneurs I work with always ask what the most important thing is in business and I tell them it’s to get out and help your community,” Preston says. “It’s part of what it means to be a business person. And the best way to get involved is to just say yes!”