Leadership Journey: Celton Hayden Jr., CEO of CC’s Coffee House

CC’s Coffee House CEO Celton Hayden Jr. is in a constant battle with complacency.

Although the Texas native has guided the Louisiana-based coffee shop company into an unprecedented period of growth, he says he constantly assesses his performance and looks for opportunities to improve.

“It’s so easy for organizations, particularly those who are well-established, to rest on their laurels,” Hayden says. “I’m always striving for something.”

Ensuring he does not fall into the trap of complacency is perhaps the central driving force of Hayden’s approach to life and business. With a self-professed “hyper-competitive” personality, his constant desire to propel change and improvement have served him well in the company he has led since 2013.

Hayden oversaw 12 CC’s stores in the Dallas area until 2003, when the chain’s owner, Community Coffee Co., opted to close 17 Texas locations to concentrate on its core business in Louisiana. He moved to Louisiana and managed stores in Baton Rouge and New Orleans until 2013, when CC’s Coffee House separated from Community Coffee. Hayden was named president and named CEO in 2014, the position he holds today.

Hayden says spinning off CC’s Coffee House from the much larger Community Coffee allowed each business to focus more closely on their specific needs: One is a highly successful coffee company with national reach, and the other is essentially a restaurant chain. “Since that time we’ve had a phenomenal turnaround,” he says. “We’ve been growing and reinvesting in ourselves.”

Hayden recently offered insights into his approach to area business leaders at the Success Labs Leadership Coaching Series, a development program for talented managers preparing to take on higher-level leadership roles. Here’s a bit of the advice he shared.

Cultivate Curiosity

Hayden says that over the years he has combined a number of traits and experiences into simple truths that he both lives by and looks for in other people. Chief among those qualities, he says, is an innate curiosity both about your own place in the world and your organization. For Hayden, that curiosity is an important component of success.

That curious nature is something you can see in all aspects of leaders’ lives. “These are the type of people who will bypass the Sports Illustrated magazine in the bookstore and the latest and greatest pundit’s book and look for something that helps them improve — to be a better boss, a better team member, a better husband, a better wife, a better son, a better daughter,” he says.

Hayden says he is drawn to the type of organizational leader who is never satisfied with the status quo and is always searching for ways to improve. He’s quick to note that this doesn’t mean a leader shouldn’t take time to appreciate successes, but he argues that successful business leaders are more often than not unsettled by a lack of change. “My truest measure of success is ‘am I beating last year’s numbers, am I creating more value?’ ” he says.

Hayden suggests asking yourself where you are in your career or where you are in your area of responsibility, and if you can only find satisfaction, you should probably be worried. “The pace of American business just doesn’t hold favor to the type of people who just stay the way they are,” he says.

Strive to Better Yourself

Hayden describes this quality as a “complete, utter obsession with not being satisfied with your own personal or professional status quo.” He holds fast to the notion that no matter how much education or success a business leader has attained, failing to improve and change will eventually catch up to them and cause negative consequences. “The business is going to get you,” he says.

Change has been the name of the game for CC’s Coffee House since it spun-off from Community Coffee Company. Having added over 12 locations since then and now approaching 50 stores by the end of 2017, CC’s is positioned for even more growth. To this end, Hayden, has set a strategic goal to triple the size of CC’s Coffee House by 2020. Hayden credits a strong menu of beverages and foods, unsurpassed staff members and genuine a desire to fulfill our mission eveday, as the driving forces that set CC’s apart.

“The model works,” he says. “How we bring coffee to market is superior to our competition.”

You’re Never Too Big for Your Job

Hayden says an employee or manager who feels they are too important for a position is a recipe for certain disaster, no matter that person’s level within the organization.

“If you work for somebody like that, get your resume polished up,” he says. “I don’t care if their name is on the door. You don’t want to be in an organization like that.”

Hayden says the late H. Norman Saurage III, who guided Community Coffee into being a major company, told him that the brand, at its heart, is about its people. With that in mind, he holds regular “jam sessions” with team members of all levels to let anyone speak their mind or offer suggestions on how to improve operations. No topic is off limits during the sessions.

Hayden says the feedback sessions help him focus on the details of the business; he believes everything in each CC’s Coffee House location is ultimately his responsibility — from employee satisfaction to the level of service to smaller components like the artwork on the wall or the color of the paint.

“I have to own it,” he says.

It’s that attention to detail and focus on constant improvement that are helping Hayden lead CC’s Coffee House into its new era of growth. For Hayden, complacency is the primary roadblock to innovation and success — and dynamic leadership that is focused on constant improvement is the most effective way to break through.

The Success Labs Leadership Coaching Series is a development program for talented leaders who are in line to take on higher-level leadership roles at your organization. Participants leave with an understanding of the competencies they’ll need as they take the next steps in their careers and action plans to help develop those competencies. The ideal candidate is a successful manager who was recently promoted or is being considered for promotion to a higher-level leadership role. Learn more about our 2017 classes.