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The LAist Interview: Phil Holland

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Local entrepreneur Phil Holland has made a deep impact on Southern California. A real estate developer, he also founded a local institution, the Yum Yum Donuts chain (who can resist the chain's icon featuring a donut with the ability to lick its own lips, let alone a donut with lips?), and developed entrepreneurial education programs for aspiring independent entrepreneurs. These programs are distributed via free online courses at My Own, classes and publications. Holland's dedication has resulted in thousands of empowered independent business owners in Los Angeles and elsewhere who, thanks to Holland’s vision and wisdom, autonomously own and manage many types of businesses.

The content of My Own Business courses is derived from Holland’s decades of experience as a real estate developer and founder/owner of Yum Yum Donuts, the aforementioned treasured Los Angeles confectionery purveyor.

1. Age and Occupation:

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I'm 78 and chairman of My Own Business, Inc., a nonprofit providing a free Internet based course to help people start successful businesses.

2. How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

My parents came to L.A. from New York when I was 2 (to get out of the awful winters) and I've lived in and around LA ever since.

3. The course that evolved into the My Own Business, Inc. non-profit venture began after the 1992 uprisings. Which factors in particular compelled you to take action by offering courses in entrepreneurship in the most impacted communities?

I had previously published a book The Entrepreneurs Guide which was based on my credential as the world's number one authority on making mistakes in my own businesses. And I felt that many of the efforts to Rebuild L.A. were hampered by bureaucratic nonsense. So in typical entrepreneurial spirit of doing it my way I converted the text into a course and started going to Compton at night to conduct free "How To Start a Business" classes. I would pass out flyers that announced Free Class!. More and more people came until they were arriving in busses from Simi Valley. Everyone was so grateful --it was a huge turn-on-- and I knew I was onto something that should be proliferated.

4. Please describe the condition of the regional doughnut market when you opened your first Yum Yum Donut Shop. How has it changed? For instance, why did Krispy Kreme find such success in LA during the pre-Atkins craze? And are you a fan of the classic glazed Krispy Kreme, or do you think they're overrated?

When I started the first Yum Yum Donut shop in 1970 at Avenue 26 and North Figueroa, I was just a flea on the back of the competing giant, Winchell Donuts. That original Yum Yum store, (and all the others) still operate today, essentially the same as it did in 1970, following the same principals of specializing in donuts, manufacturing the very best ingredients and having operators who share in the success of their individual stores.

I sold my interest in Yum Yum in 1989 and my former partner Frank Watase and his son Lincoln have continued to expand the mix plant and store operations. And as you may know, Yum Yum Donuts recently acquired the Winchell chain: a development that makes me very proud and is also great news for Winchell operators to be associated with Yum Yum.

I think Krispy Kremes initial success in LA was due in large measure to the huge outpouring of nostalgia from people in LA who were either raised or had visited Southern states in earlier years. For many years KK not only dominated the business in the South but became an integral part of Southern culture. I think their future success in LA is going to depend on their success in generating a large wholesale business, i.e., sales through supermarkets and other retailers. But in no way are they going to make an impact on the Yum Yum customer base here or anywhere else.

5. How did you gather support for the project and recruit board members for your non-profit organization?

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Our initial board members were recruited for their specialized expertise in aspects of small business. So the materials I started with were greatly expanded and enhanced. Our support is now largely based the fact that we use the most efficient delivery system in the world: the Internet. More than 130,000 visitors are now coming to every month.

6. As a developer and manager of shopping centers, what's your response to critics who decry the proliferation of strip malls and their ilk as visual pollution, anti-pedestrian architecture, etc.? Do you think much about architecture and urban design when planning new centers?

I think good architecture and urban design means everything to developers because customers want a pleasant experience in shopping. They will reward good centers and penalize poorly designed and operated one. But I don't think that deciding on architecture is a function of government. Municipalities should have all their architectural and building guidelines stated clearly in their codes and not left to the subjective and changing opinions of government officials and committees.

7. Where/how is it most challenging to develop new properties with regards to acquisition, land entitlement, and building processes?

Two challenges are facing developers today in most all American cities.

First, the expensive process of getting a project to the building permit stage. This difficulty has even created a new industry called facilitators who specialize in navigating a project through approval processes.

Also, the increasing level of soft costs, i.e., those costs not represented by land and improvements are making many developments uneconomic.

8. Do you have much contact with people who have acquired the My Own Business Certificate or used other resources via the website and organization? Any favorite success stories, either from here or abroad?

My favorite story is that of Ezequiel Padilla whose whole family ended up taking the course. They are operating a great and expanding Mexican restaurant in Compton, Jugos Tropicales Mexican Foods.

9. How is Los Angeles an effective city for encouraging entrepreneurship and small businesses? What are its drawbacks?

The great thing about LA is that we have the huge population base to begin with. Too often, businesses are started in small communities that simply dont have the population to make small businesses work. The catch is that in LA you have to be very, very good and specialized at what you do.

10. As someone who cares deeply about local entrepreneurship, does the growing presence of big box retail concern you?

Not at all. The notion of attempting to legislate business growth is damaging to free enterprise and this kind of government interference is harmful to entrepreneurs. For example, there has been recent attempts in California to ban people under 21 from patronizing tanning salons. Today's entrepreneurs are finding wonderful opportunities in filling specialized and expanding service needs. Our local hardware store, which offers very personalized support, is now expanding their building and theyre up the street from a Home Depot.

11. Which of your business accomplishments are you most proud of?

The 130,000 visitors per month on our website just wows me. And the letter I recently received from the president of the World Bank thanking us for our course which they are now using on five continents.

12. What's your preferred mode of transportation?

Are you nuts? I didn't know there were any choices! My car, of course!

13. If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

This is a no-brainer: Right now! Ive been just about everywhere and there is no place offering the diversity of comforts, entertainment, restaurants and weather that we enjoy right here right now.

14. What is the "center" of LA to you?


15. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

A house on the Westside, with a 50-foot lap pool and a great view of the ocean and city.

16. Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?

This is an easy answer: Yes, so far!

17. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

I would like to be at home.