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One-on-One with Mark Herman

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a teenager in Albuquerque, Mark Herman used to envision himself on Wall Street.

Hey, it was the 1980s.

“I graduated (from Albuquerque Academy) in ’87, which was the year the movie ‘Wall Street’ came out,” Herman says of the Reagan-era Hollywood hit. “I thought ‘That’s the way to do it.'”

THE BASICS: Born Mark Herman on Dec. 31, 1969, in Albuquerque; bachelor’s in economics from University of New Mexico; married to Christine since May 26, 1991; two children: Andrew, 17, and Lindsey, 15; two dogs: Abby and Ari, both mutts.

POSITION: CEO of Dion’s since December, previously the company’s chief operating officer.

WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Herman likes to do voices and impersonations, although he will only show them off for family members. He can imitate some cartoon characters – like Scooby-Doo – and says that as a kid he used to be able to recite Eddie Murphy’s entire first comedy album.

“I was probably 12 or 13, so (the content) was definitely on the edge for being 12,” he says. “But that’s what having older brothers and sisters does for you.”

He even started down that path right out of college – at least briefly. Shortly after wrapping up his economics degree at University of New Mexico, he took an entry-level job at a financial company.

It wasn’t quite what he expected.

And it also was nothing like Charlie Sheen’s big-screen gig.

“It only lasted six weeks because my job started with them handing me the phone book and saying, ‘Hey, go sell some insurance,’ and I couldn’t do it,” Herman remembers. “I made a few appointments and calls, (but) never a sale to anyone who wasn’t family or friend. … It was awful. I have tremendous respect for people who can do sales that way, but that’s certainly not me.”

That’s how Herman found his way back into the warm, doughy embrace of Dion’s.

Herman, an Albuquerque native, began working for Dion’s right out of high school. He continued with the company during college, eventually taking on shift management duties.

When he quit after his college graduation, it was with the intention of getting into the financial industry or going back to school to get an MBA.

But Dion’s wanted him back. At the company’s Christmas party, Herman was offered a job as store manager for the old Central/Tramway location.

“I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it for a year,'” Herman says. “And that was in 1991.”

One year turned two, and one promotion led to another. A career was officially born.

Over the course of the 22 years, Herman steadily worked his way up the ranks. In January, he was promoted to CEO.

He now oversees the 1,200-employee restaurant operation with 18 locations, including sites in Lubbock and Colorado Springs.

It was a path he never saw coming, certainly not as a teenager making pizzas and taking phone orders at the original Dion’s at Montgomery and Juan Tabo NE.

“Being in this kind of business or being the CEO of a business didn’t cross my mind at all,” he says. “(But) one of the cool things about Dion’s (is that) part of what we do is about the food, but the other part is the job opportunities we provide, especially for young people.

“It’s kind of fitting (because) that’s the culture we have: to give people an opportunity. Not only myself but most of our leadership team started in the store and worked their way up.”

That teenage job didn’t just lead to a career – and loads of pepperoni-and-green-chile pizza – for Herman. It also led to a marriage. He met his wife working at Dion’s one summer during college. In fact, she was his manager.

Dating the boss?

“We would frown upon that now,” Herman says with a laugh.

Dion’s – which has long relied on a young workforce – looks for certain qualities when hiring teenagers, Herman says. The busier and more involved, the better. Engagement in various activities is seen as a sign of initiative and work ethic.

A young Herman definitely fit the bill.

The youngest of three children, Herman played soccer and was a cross-country ski racer.

And when he wasn’t competing, he might have been helping his mother on the dog show scene. She used to raise and show Labrador retrievers, and Herman would travel with his mom to events around the region – sometimes serving as the junior handler during the judging.

Like his affiliation with Dion’s, his passion for soccer and skiing has followed him into adulthood. He coached his daughter’s youth soccer team for years and tunes in for every televised Manchester United game. He’s still an avid skier, heading up to Angel Fire on a regular basis.

But he’s left the dog shows behind. The owner of two mutts, he says he has no urge to get back in the ring.

“It was too much work and too much politics,” he says.

Q: Do you have a professional mentor?

A: I think Jon Patten, one of the two (Dion’s) founders. He taught me patience – that generally letting things work out on their own as opposed to thinking you have to take care of things too quickly is a good idea – and (about) standing for what I believe in. He’s very forgiving of mistakes and expects you to learn from them too.

Q: What do you remember about working for Dion’s as a teenager?

A: I remember a couple things. I remember how much fun it was, how many friends I met. I remember how much flour you get on your clothes, the smell – going home smelling like pizza – and how busy it was. When you first start at Dion’s, it’s shocking just how busy it is.

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: I was the smartass (laughs). I was pretty quiet overall. Quiet, good grades, didn’t get into a lot of trouble. My friends and I probably did a lot more stupid things in our cars than we would ever care to admit and are glad that we all lived to tell about it. I hope my kids never drive like we did.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: I would say fair, even-keeled and accepting. I believe in people. People have to do a lot to have me not believe in them.

Q: Do you collect anything?

A: Football cards. My brother and I started collecting cards when we were little, so I still buy a handful a year. (The best is) probably either a Terry Bradshaw that I have or a Walter Payton.

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