There’s a great need for scholarships to help veterans
An MBA gave Vietnam veteran Gordon Logan a boost in his business career, and now his company, Sport Clips Haircuts, is providing opportunities for other veterans to get the education required to realize their dreams.
Logan, who left a job at chemical company Dow-Badische to join the Air Force in 1969, commanded a C-130 transport plane flying over South Vietnam in spring 1973, after the January peace treaty that ended American combat there. He helped relocate refugees who had been displaced by the fighting. Logan also flew missions to support Cambodians battling the communist Khmer Rouge insurgency.
After the war, he got his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, worked in Houston as a consultant for Price Waterhouse and became an Austin-based franchisee and later co-owner of hair salon chain Command Performance. In 1993, he started Sport Clips, a sports-themed haircutter for men and boys.
Sport Clips assists many nonprofits, including the Red Cross, a childhood cancer foundation,
a foundation that offers biplane rides to elderly veterans, and the USO. Its premier project is Help A Hero, which gives scholarships of up to $5,000 to veterans, in cooperation with the VFW Foundation.
Logan talked with Editor Chuck Springston about that project and his military service.
Why did you quit your job to become an Air Force pilot? I had gone to Dow-Badische [after getting an undergraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and they got me an occupational deferment. I didn’t feel real good about that, primarily because others, including my friends, were being drafted.
So I signed up for the Air Force and went through officer training school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, then pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. Afterward I selected Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines because that’s where C-130s flying in Southeast Asia were based, and they would go in-country for a month or two at a time.
Where were you stationed in Southeast Asia? We were based out of U-Tapao [air base] in Thailand when we were flying in Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam we relocated refugees wherever they happened to be. We went into Tan Son Nhut [air base near Saigon] and Can Tho, an airstrip in the [Mekong] delta. We’d pick them up one place and take them someplace else within Vietnam.
What type of support did you provide to the Cambodians? We took supplies to Phnom Penh [the capital] when it was under siege by the Khmer Rouge. And we had to spiral down to the airfield [a fast-descent maneuver to avoid enemy groundfire], offload and then try to get back out as quickly as we could.
We also flew into some jungle strips that didn’t have any control towers. It was just basically a runway with a ramp to offload. People would come in and out of the jungle, and we’d shove the boxes off the back, hoping they didn’t shoot us. Often we were delivering AK-47 ammunition since the Russians had supplied the Cambodians for years.
What got you interested in the haircutting business? When I was working at Price Waterhouse, I started thinking about being in business for myself, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about Command Performance. It sounded like a good opportunity, so I became a franchisee.
That point in time, the late ’70s and early ’80s, the industry was very fragmented. There were no well-organized marketing programs. We had nice-looking up-to-date, hip salons. We’re blasting rock ’n’ roll and had a much younger look and feel than your typical salon. It was very successful at first. That system unfortunately went through some bad times when the founders overextended themselves, forcing them to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1981. The company was reorganized and bought and sold a couple of times. Another franchisee and I bought it in 1991. We tried to rehabilitate that system for a couple of years, but it became clear that it was very difficult to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We arranged for our franchisees to sell their salons and so they could exit with a good payday.
Why did you start Sport Clips? We felt like there was a real opportunity if we developed something specifically targeted toward men and boys. The traditional barbershops were closing pretty rapidly. Men had to go to either the beauty salon or family haircutters like Fantastic Sams or SuperCuts. We developed the Sport Clips concept and opened our first Sport Clips in Austin, Texas, in June of ’93. We operated it for about 2½ years, made sure everything was working properly and then started franchising in November of ’95. This is our 25th anniversary, and we’ve been franchising almost 23 years now.
Any leadership principles you learned in the Air Force that helped you as the CEO of an international business? You learn the value of teamwork and the fact that you have to accomplish the mission. Even though a C-130 had a crew of only about five people, you had to bring people from different parts of the country and different backgrounds together as a team. In the military, be it in a squadron, a foxhole or an aircraft, everybody has to pull together and make things happen.
We feel like veterans make great franchisees. In franchising, we have a proven business system, and we’re looking for people who can execute it. Military people are used to working within a system and executing.
How many Sport Clips franchisees are veterans? About 15 percent.
When did Sport Clips first become involved in philanthropic efforts? We were involved in local charities almost from day one. We became the official haircutter of the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] in 2007, and we started working with the VFW Foundation to fund Operation Uplink, which provided free phone calls home for troops overseas and in hospitals. We raised quite a bit of money for that.
Then, about five to six years ago when the troops were coming home [as U.S. forces were reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan], the need for those phone calls decreased significantly. We got with the VFW and said let’s come up with a program that is needed.
Looking at how many veterans separate [from the service] each year, there’s got to be a great need for scholarships to help veterans continue their education Some of them have burned through their GI Bill benefits. They may be married and have four or five kids.
We switched our emphasis in 2013 to a scholarship program we call Help A Hero, administered through the VFW Foundation. We’ve raised almost $5 million for scholarships and awarded more than a thousand scholarships to veterans making their transition from military to civilian careers. The scholarships help them focus on their studies rather than worrying about putting food on the table for their families.
We have recipients in graduate school, medical school and law school, and programs to get a commercial truck driver’s license. We fund about 15 to 20 percent of the applicants we get every year. I wish we could do more, but I feel like we’re really making a difference in some people’s lives.
How do you raise the money for the scholarships? Our stores really get behind this program. Our stylists do all kinds of fundraisers. Clients make contributions, and lots of product partners also contribute.
We have a big push, from October leading up to Veterans Day. There are national TV ads, in-store promotion efforts and media outreach. Last year, we raised $1.25 million. Our goal this year is $1.5 million. On Veterans Day every year, we donate a dollar for every haircut, which may not sound like much, but it’s more than $100,000 in one day.
We also sponsor the Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway [in South Carolina] every Labor Day weekend, and we call that the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200. We use that as an opportunity to promote the program. We have one of our scholarship recipients there waving the green flag to start the races.
Do you think the GI Bill should provide more benefits than it currently does? Well, I certainly support that. That’s up to Congress. It helped me when I went back to school after Vietnam. It helped a lot of veterans further their education. It is certainly not overfunded, that’s for sure.
Fifty years later, how should the country look back upon the Vietnam War? At the time, I had a different perspective on it than I do now. When you’re young and gung-ho it seems like a big adventure. You see things through a different light, a different lens. You don’t realize the potential impact—it’s always going to happen to somebody else; it’s not going to happen to you.
But in hindsight you see how it really divided the country. It damaged the reputation, unjustly for the most part, of the military, and it took a long time to recover from that. Luckily since the [1990-91] Gulf War, the image and the public perception of our military has improved.
Unfortunately, in an all-volunteer army only a small percentage of our population is in the military. The Vietnam War affected several million people. Not everybody was subject to the draft, but everybody knew somebody who was there, so it was more personal and painful.
With the volunteer army, it’s not as likely someone in the general population has a family member in the military and potentially at risk. I think they appreciate the military in a general sort of way, but it’s not as personal.
What are the lessons of the Vietnam War? The reality is we probably never should have been there in the first place. If we were going to be there, we should have committed to win the damn thing—58,000 of our kids were killed over there for virtually nothing, mainly because of politics. Our fighters and bombers weren’t allowed to bomb airfields [in North Vietnam] where Russian advisers were. We weren’t able to bomb the ships in Haiphong Harbor [near Hanoi] that were likely Russian ships. If you’re going to fight, fight. Win the damn war.
It’s frustrating, when you see soldiers go over to Iraq and Afghanistan and get seriously injured. In Iraq, it’s debatable whether we accomplished anything or not. But when we get involved, we should be very careful about how we withdraw our military. There’s only one reason to be in a war, and that’s to win it.
The Vietnam War era also is known for its music. What was your favorite music? I was pretty much Motown. The Temptations were probably my favorite group. I guess James Brown would probably would be my favorite ever. But I never was into heavy metal and hippy-dippy San Francisco stuff.
What did you wear back then? I don’t recall wearing anything outrageous. When I was at work I wore a coat and tie. Casual—I don’t recall it being all that wild and crazy. Pants and some kind of sports shirt. I never did the bell-bottoms, the tie-dye shirts.
What’s next for you? My son was very recently promoted to president, and he’s taking a lot of the responsibility for the day-to-day operations of our company. Although I’m still very much involved, it’s nice to have somebody to share the load. We’re looking forward to the next 25 years.
Residence: Georgetown, Texas, near Austin
Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, 1968; Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, MBA, 1976
Military Service: U.S. Air Force, February 1969-June 74 (active duty), Reserves to 1976; highest rank: captain
In Southeast Asia: February-June 1973; 773rd Tactical Airlift Squadron, 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing
Business career: Financial planning and control consultant, Price Waterhouse & Co., 1976-1980; franchisee, Command Performance, 1978-91; co-owner, Command Performance, 1991-93; founder, Sport Clips Haircuts, 1993
Today: CEO, Sport Clips Inc., based in Georgetown, with 1,768 stores, including 38 in Canada (69 company-owned and operated); 2017 revenue: $600 million