“The thing that motivates me most is helping people realize their dream of owning a small business.”

When Johnny Baumann took his first real estate course at the University of North Texas, it was a far cry from the music classes he’d been taking for his first two years of college. But, Baumann had a long-standing interest in architecture, and a friend with a leasing company convinced him to try it.

Now, after working his way into the industry through internships and some invaluable mentors, Baumann is the director of real estate and construction for Global Franchise Group, which owns and manages branding for Marble Slab Creamery, Great American Cookies, MaggieMoo's, and other food and retail chains. At just 30 years old, Baumann oversees site selection, location design, and development for the company's various brands, and here he reflects on how he climbed so high so fast.

Johnny Baumann

I got so excited when I took my first real estate course. I had started as a music major, and after two years of that, I had this epiphany that I didn’t want to be a musician. A friend of mine had a leasing company with about 30 or 40 houses, and he said he thought I might be pretty good at it. Dr. Bain was my professor there, and he was so engaging, and it just seemed like kind of a natural fit. When I was younger, I used to dream of being an architect and always had my drawing pad open.

Johnny Baumann: Career Highlights

2002: Decides, while studying music at the University of North Texas­, to switch tacks and take a real estate course through the university’s renowned real estate program
2003: Meets real estate professional Brenda Ford, who becomes his mentor
2004: Interns with the Tabani Group, a Dallas-based real estate investment firm, during his junior year of college
2006: Gets hired by Marble Slab Creamery as a real estate coordinator straight out of college
2007: Earns a promotion to real estate manager as Marble Slab is bought out by Nexen
2010: Takes over as the director of real estate and construction for Global Franchise Group after the company purchases all of Nexen’s assets

Don’t be afraid to talk to people and network. I met my mentor, Brenda Ford, while I was waiting tables. At that time, I was still taking my real estate class. She was taking her husband and son out to dinner and was moving to Russia to head up a retail program. I eavesdropped a little bit and decided I had to meet and talk to her. She’s been my mentor ever since. I’ve done deals with her and still see her at industry events. I’m a big believer that all connections we have end up having a purpose. If you put yourself in a box and don’t introduce yourself around, you’re not going to network your way into new experiences and opportunities.

I think for all of our brands, one thing that rings true is freshness and perceived freshness. Marble Slab is a fantastic company, and the product is wonderful, but we were seeing some pretty huge competition with yogurt stores like Pinkberry and Red Mango. There was a shift in consumer preference for a more modern aesthetic. People wanted a fun environment, and we were behind the times compared to yogurt. We didn’t go quite as modern because we didn’t want to be sterile. The new design is all about the candy and mix-ins and giving people the feeling that they could have whatever kind of flavor combination they wanted.

Being involved in trade organizations like the National Restaurant Association has been really helpful. I can’t say enough about how that has helped me advance, especially on the construction side, where I see new equipment and other new trends in the restaurant industry. I was not comfortable with construction when I first started out; I knew a little from the real estate side, [which helped] when looking for buildings for new stores. But it’s really all about processes, meeting people’s needs, and understanding the business aspects that can help control costs for small businesses.

Being humble is very important. I rely on people on my team that have more experience. I have a 30-year veteran reporting to me, and it really forces me to listen to people and value their feedback. I try to provide people with the things they need to get a job done and listen to what the real issues are, as opposed to coming in and assuming I know what the problems are.

The thing that motivates me the most is that I’m helping people realize their dream of owning a small business. We have a location in Peachtree City, Georgia, doing twice the volume we’d thought they would. That will set up their family for the next generation, and they’re already talking about a second and third store. Hearing those success stories is really fulfilling to me. ABQ