Bart Butler, CTO of European Wax Center, on how data powers their business, career lessons, and the ‘blank canvas.’
As the CTO of European Wax center, Bart Butler didn’t expect to become passionate about hair removal. But now, as the company’s meteoric rise continues with over 7,000 employees and over 800 locations, he’s found his calling.
“Our cofounders are the great American success story,” Bart says. “They’re just so passionate about their cause, and it’s not just about being a waxing company. It’s about running a great organization in a smarter way.”
EWC’s blazing success comes from a drive to make customers happier and more confident, a united (if enormous) team, and especially from a place that no one expected: getting data into the hands of everyone in the company.
We sat down with Bart to talk about his career, his daily routine, and how the concept of a blank canvas changed the way he does business.
On how tech fuels the EWC business:
We pride ourselves on being the brand that is always with you. If you’re up at 1 AM, and you want to make a reservation, we’re waiting there for you on the app. We’re awake, we’re the ones talking to you in EWC’s voice, educating you about what we do, letting you know about services that might be right for you.
You might be surprised at how numbers-driven our culture is. We’ve pushed numbers down to the waxer level—to the people doing that job—and we’re all brought together to have conversations about data. It really is data to dialogue. It isn’t data for data’s sake, no buzzwords. It’s data into dialogue, and now we discuss it together as a group.
Here’s a perfect example: Our CFO and I were on the phone over the last few days, trying to find a discrepancy of budget to actual that we had. We were looking at our teams, looking at Domo, and one of the systems of records that we were pulling from. Because we’re able to use data as common language, we quickly found where the issue was and figured out what we needed to do about it. We didn’t spend hours arguing.
On “the blank canvas”:
Data visualization has given me this incredible blank canvas to throw paint on—to continue to grow the company in so many ways. The thing I really like about this analogy is, a whiteboard is constantly drawn on and erased and drawn on again and erased, right? I love to know that when it comes to project management—I love to erase that whiteboard after a project, and begin again, and say, “What’s next?”
On his morning routine:
I’m up very early, by 4:30. Always have been. I think it comes from my Midwestern upbringing, working on a farm. I check my emails, have a couple of computers going, and my iPad in hand. I scan through different periodicals—USA Today’s tech section, LinkedIn articles, and others—and I send articles I find relevant out to the team. Then, I focus on the one or two most critical tasks that I need to accomplish by the end of that day—whether that’s contract negotiations, finalizing strategic partnerships, or something to motivate the team.
On the importance of reading, and his favorite books:
I’m a big reader. I think that’s one of the best ways to keep growing as a person throughout your life, so I’ve applied that to my role here. And teaching others what I learn from reading also helps me grow because I see what works, how it shapes people’s thinking, and how we can get more done collectively, together.
One of my favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird”—that’s one I read again and again. Atticus Finch is probably who many of us aspire to be, as a father and as a human being. My other favorite book is “It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf.” His message is simple: do the right thing, not just what your peers think you should do. Do what you think and feel is the right thing. And when you’ve done that, walk with your head held high.
On the most important lesson he’s learned in his career thus far:
“Work hard and don’t whine,” comes to mind. I try to tell my team this often: “Own your own career. If you have something to contribute, speak up—but don’t do so just to be noticed.” There’s a certain amount of that in business today—“How do I get visibility?” What you WILL get positive visibility for is saying and doing the right things. I try and coach people toward that.
On role models:
My Vice President, when I was at Disney. I encouraged everyone around me to work for and with him as much as possible. He’d been at Disney for nearly 50 years when he retired. His bark was tough. He made you a better leader. He had that ‘get it done’ mentality. There was never a door that was closed too tight for him—his reaction was always “Well, let’s find a way to open it.”
“I used to joke, when my daughter was about five years old, that I could always get a “no” from her. She could argue with me and say no every time, because she was five. But what we need to do at work is say this: how is it that we solve the problems in front of us, as a team, and not complain about it? How do we push it through and figure it out together?”
On his biggest accomplishment at EWC:
We came up with a vision, and we put it together in our first six months. We made our operations more efficient by getting rid of technologies that we didn’t need, and simplified it down to a streamlined run, day-to-day.
My peers at EWC are second to none. From marketing, to finance, to talent management, to our chief legal counsel…we all work as a cohesive unit. We don’t silo ourselves and say “Hey, this particular problem is not my job.” We are all here for the brand. That’s something special in anyone’s career, because it doesn’t happen often that a team is synced up like that. I think we are all cognizant of that special working relationship—the dedication we all have towards moving this brand forward together. It has been a really special part of my career here.
On what’s coming up next for EWC:
We have some amazing things coming up, from a product differentiation perspective. We’ll keep working with all of our current franchisees and make sure that their centers are as efficient and as profitable as possible. We’ll continue to teach them how to give great guest and associate experiences. And, of course, we’re continuing our top and bottom line growth.
My biggest area of growth right now, on a personal level, is in learning and teaching. I think that the more you teach, you find that it becomes a two-way dialogue—and then both the student and the teacher are growing from the experience. That’s the way I see myself continuing to grow until the end of my career, to be honest with you—teaching others and learning from them.