AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 14: American Express Provides Fans with Premium Perks and Benefits at Austin City Limits Festival on October 14, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for American Express)
Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for American Expres
Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images for American Expres

Eight minutes with Shaq, new Papa John’s board member, franchise owner, ambassador: ‘I’m a triple threat’

Originally posted Friday, March 22, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta resident Shaquille O’Neal is ubiquitous.

The NBA Hall of Famer endorses products (e.g. The General insurance, chief “fun” officer for Carnival Cruises). He co-hosts “Inside the NBA” on TNT. He just became an “auxiliary deputy for Broward County’s Sheriff’s department three years after being named a sheriff’s “deputy” in Clayton County. He owns the 60-year-old Krispy Kreme franchise on Ponce de Leon Ave. He hosts big parties called “Shaq’s Fun House.” He does a weekly podcast

And today, Papa John’s announced he will be on the pizza company’s board of directors. Plus, Shaq has also taken a 30 percent stake in nine Papa John’s Pizza franchises in metro Atlanta. (Yes, that includes the one near me!)

Papa John’s has been embroiled in controversy the past couple of years that may have contributed to slipping sales the past five quarters. Founder John Schnatter in 2017 criticized players for kneeling during the National Anthem. Then last year,  Papa John’s cut ties with the NFL and Schnatter said the N-word during a conference call. He is no longer with the company

The company is clearly trying to endear itself to its black customers by making Shaq a board member, franchise owner and ambassador. He would be the first black board member for the company. 

Here are some highlights from our eight-minute conversation: 

How Shaq joined Papa John’s: “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a board. I had contacted Papa John’s for some franchise opportunities. They were going through some troubles last year. I talked with the new chairman Jeff Smith and the new CEO Steve Ritchie. They talked about diversifying their leadership. They wanted some new blood. I’m one of six new members on the board.”

Shaq’s pitch: “So let’s make me a triple threat. I want to be on the board, invest in some stores. I want to be an ambassador for the brand. People have to understand we have a new hierarchy at Papa John’s. They relayed the message to me. I want to help cultivate a culture where everybody is loved and respected. That’s what it’s all about. We don’t have to get into all this nonsense.”

Why? “Pizza is fun. Everybody loves pizza. And pizza loves everybody. Pizza is about serving everybody. Papa John’s has always stood for high-quality pizza. When all this went down, it fell on the 800 franchises. They did nothing wrong. They’re regular people like me. I’m doing this to help create new energy for them because I’m part of the team. Yesterday, there were 800 franchise owners. Today there are 801.”

How’s his Krispy Kreme franchise going: “It’s No. 1 in the country.” [Not sure what that means and an email to the Krispy Kreme media folks has not been returned.]

How does he manage to do so much? “I’m sitting in a building in New York city looking at a skyscraper. No way one person could build it. It takes a big team. I have a guy who manages my stores. I know how to delegate wisely. Being a leader, if someone makes a mistake, we talk to him, work on it in 15-20 minutes. It’s how I do things.”

His 200th podcast live at the Sports & Social Atlanta at the Battery March 27 (buy tickets here): “Killer Mike will be there. Have all your friends come on by and laugh at us for an hour and a half.”

His third Shaq Fun House in Miami March 29 (tickets here): “People want to come out to see great music and have a fun time, this is it. And I’ll be DJing some of it... They say I’m the Michael Jordan of DJ’s. At least someone wrote that.”

His take on the Atlanta Hawks: “Young team. I think you can look forward to having Trae Young as the future face of the franchise.Now management has to get to work and hopefully get a big-name free agent to come to the city.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.