After divesting your restaurant empire, “you’re still the same person. It doesn’t make you smart, it just makes you a little bit richer,” says Sean Tuohy with his wife, Leigh Anne.

Steve Jones

I had a great time interviewing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy last Tuesday at their home in Memphis, and also enjoyed staying in the new-ish Graceland Guest House where so many patrons were wearing fancy fringed cowboy shirts and glittery dresses that Elvis would have been proud. In my plain denims and dark jacket, I felt positively funereal in contrast.

The Tuohys gained fame from the 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” about their adopting a down-and-out Michael Oher when he was 16, who then went on to NFL football fame. Sandra Bullock played Leigh Anne in the movie, but Bullock couldn’t hold a candle to the real deal, which I’ll detail in the April issue featuring all 11 Franchise Times Dealmakers award winners.

Sean built up RGT Management at one time to 115 restaurants, mostly Taco Bells and KFCs, then spent the past three years with Auspex Capital divesting all but 11. After the dollars come from divestment, he says, “You’re still the same person. It doesn’t make you smart, it just makes you a little bit richer.”

That was just one of the bits of wisdom he shared when describing the somewhat unsettling yet enriching process of winding down your life’s work.

Deciding where to give to charity is “still a hard question,” he says, detailing the couple’s philosophy in their New York Times best-selling book “In a Heartbeat,” so titled “because that’s how fast our life changed.” They believe in the popcorn theory of giving.

What’s that? Think about looking into a pan of popcorn cooking in oil on the stovetop. “You can’t pick which one is about to pop,” he says. “What we’d like to do is think we’re looking into that pan, and when a kernel pops," that’s the one they’ll help.

“Who at that moment can we help, and did it pop up in our face and need help,” is what they consider. “We can’t be all things to all. We’re not picking the kernel. It’s picking us.”

 

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