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Andrew Cherng
Founder and Chairman of
Panda Management Company, Inc.

Interview by AC Team's Mario Machado

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     Andrew Cherng is the founder of Panda Management Company Inc., a group of restaurants which includes Panda Express, one of the fastest-growing Asian cuisine food chains within the restaurant industry today.

     Cherng's innovative combination of gourmet Mandarin cuisine and a quick-service environment in 1983 was an immediate success. As a result, Panda Express has broadened its operations from Southern California to 33 states, including Hawaii, as well as Puerto Rico and Japan, with plans for continued national expansion. The success of Panda Express is due in part to the founder's desire to be involved in the day to day operations of each restaurant. There are no plans to offer franchises in the near future.

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Mario Machado:  I have Andrew Cherng with me, one of the true pioneering entrepreneurs. How did you get this entrepreneurial spirit? Were you born with it, or did you see an opportunity and say, "I'm going to do it and learn?

Andrew Cherng:  I think depending on whether you come from a good aspect or bad, I think I was born with it. And I think I have a little too much, maybe sometimes I feel like I have a disease, you can't get rid of it. But I think having an urge to be successful and want to do more in life, that comes from inner desire, and I'm stuck with it.

Mario:  Was it a struggle for you to be successful? Were there points where you were going to throw it up and say, "To heck with it?" Or did you always have the goal and knew that you were going to achieve the goal?

Andrew: I think that it is always a struggle, I think that it is always a personal struggle. And one thing about entrepreneurial, one of the characters we don't give up, nothing that's worthwhile comes easy, I don't think. So therefore keep trying, and not to be bothered by failure and people saying no to you, it certainly happens all the time. And I think that's where we were able to excel over time. As you know, you and I have known each other for a long time, we have been in business for over 27 years, so it's not an overnight "dotcom" success either. And I think of ourselves as really a company of learning, if you will. When you grow into a different size, you have different challenges, and I think the most exciting part in business is personal learning and personal growth and that's been very gratifying.

Mario:  You started out with one, what do you have now? You have an empire.

Andrew: We own and operate over 360 restaurants. Most of our restaurants, as you know, is Panda Express. Our flagship restaurants are Panda Inns, and that's where we got started. And certainly we view us as being very fortunate that we have a very solid background from a food and service standpoint. And so it's been a wonderful journey.

Mario:  Did you know it would work from the time you had conceived the concept, or did you have to tweak it along the way and make mistakes and even come to the verge of giving it up?

Andrew: I don't think anything works very well without tweaking. Certainly today people do a lot of research ahead of time, and so once you find out what the customers want, you start with a rough concept, still you have to tweak it. In my case, we opened a restaurant, obviously being very close to one restaurant and only one restaurant, you spend a lot of time talking with the customers, and finding out what you are doing good and what you are not doing very well. And you just keep tweaking it, and I think most customers, everyone, they want to see you be successful, they want to tell you the things that they like. That's what I think made us very successful, because we listen to the customers, we pay attention to the details and we keep tweaking it. And I think that's been the experience.

Mario:  Before you leave us, talk to the young people and give them advice as to how to be successful and not to give up, in your own words.

Andrew: Well I think in this business or any other business, we get up in the morning, we have to have passion for making things better. In my opinion, what you do everyday, if you can make a little bit of difference in what you do everyday and make things a little bit better, I think the good result will show and success will follow.

Mario:  So it's not just the high-tech business that there are opportunities, you can take on a rival or another express chain to take you on, you wouldn't mind as long as they fought fair?

Andrew: Well, the hardest battle, believe it or not, is within yourself. A lot of people stop learning, a lot of people stop improving once they get to a certain place. I think in today's environment, keep on learning, keep on earning. You have to keep on improving yourself, however incremental. I think that the spirit and the culture within Panda - we have a very strong learning spirit, and that's really carried us to this level. And I think everyday when you try to grow more, that's the fundamental power of growth. It's the people, it's the culture, it's the belief that we are very good and we can do it and we can get better.

Mario:  Thank you Andrew Cherng.

Andrew:  Thank you.

- End of Transcript -

Panda Express Official Site

Other Interviews
Committee of 100 Chairman Henry Tang
Committee of 100 Conference Chair Matt Fong
Committee of 100 Governor and Former Chairman Shirley Young
East West Bank Chairman, President and CEO Dominic Ng
Founder of Chris Lee Productions Inc. Chris Lee
Founder of Panda Management Company, Inc. Andrew Cherng




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