Cain Beaming on a Recent Television Commercial

Herman Cain’s “Beamer program” is a small detail that he includes in his autobiographical material to show what a brilliant manager he is. This article examines Cain’s Beamer program and concludes that it did not exist. Cain was at best enforcing the normally degrading policies of fast food restaurants towards their employees in a strict and harmful way. This article suggests that Cain made up the Beamer program as a pseudo-parable to further Cain’s self created myth that he is a great businessman. At the same time, the Beamer program tall tale is meant to cover up the truth that Cain’s rise in the Burger King corporation was not due to anything he did, but to Jessie Jackson’s PUSH organization threatening a consumer boycott and forcing Burger King to institute an affirmative action program to promote black managers in 1982-1983.

Cain’s Beamer Program Mytheme
Cain often refers to the Beamer program. The references vary quite a bit, but they generally follows a standard template. Here are a few samples. The first is from Cain’s website, “Herman Cain, THE New Voice Inc[1]:

 Return with me again to my first Burger King restaurant. When the District Manager told me that I was being given the responsibility to manage the restaurant (although I thought of it as being CEO of the restaurant), I asked him to explain his expectations of me. “Just increase the sales and the profits,” he said. When I asked if could change any of the menu prices, he said I could not. I asked if I could spend some discretionary marketing dollars. He said nope. I asked if I could eliminate the Parmesan sandwich from the menu, since we only sold two a month. He again said no. Everything I asked about was a big fat “cannot.”

As I started to take charge of the restaurant, I started to think about one thing he did not put in the “cannot” category. He did not say I could not change the attitude of everybody in the restaurant. I had remembered from “Burger Boot Camp” at Burger King University (yes, there is one) how much they emphasized telling the cashiers to smile, to get customers to smile, in order to make them feel like coming back. I noticed a lot of my cashiers were not smiling either, and so a lot of the customers were not smiling. This is when I created the BEAMER program, which taught people (mostly teenagers) how to make people smile.

You look people in the eye and smile, and they will smile back.

Unless someone is among the walking dead, it works every time.

When I took over as manager of the restaurant, its end-of-year sales projection was about $800,000. After three months of the BEAMER program, the District Manager (Mr. “Cannots”) revised the projection upwards to one million dollars, since the sales trend had moved up noticeably. (I still had the Parmesan sandwich on the menu.)

Cain’s claim that there was an expectation that he would increase sales and profits is absurd. Cain was in an executive training program designed to allow him to become a regional sales manager. In this phase he was being taught to manage a store, which he had never done before. It is hardly believable that someone would demand that he increase profits under such circumstances. Since Cain was only going to be at the store for three months and he was not allowed to make any changes, the idea that he would be responsible for increasing profits is even more outrageous. Clearly factors beyond the control of any manager, such as successful national ad campaigns, local competition and the state of the local economy, would affect the rise or fall of profits at an individual restaurant.  A manager-trainee without even the power to change menu items or prices could not be held responsible for increasing profits. Even if profits increased, it would not demonstrate any ability to manage a store. This suggests that Cain still does not have a clue about the purpose of his training or store management in general. If he did, he would never propose something so ridiculous.

Here is a short version from the conservative echo chamber “National Review”[2]:

Cain Believes in Happy Employees: Tired of surly DMV employees? Ready to lose it if one more postal worker glares at you? Well, get ready to pull the lever for President Cain. When managing a Burger King restaurant, Cain became frustrated when he wasn’t allowed to make any significant changes, including changing prices or increasing the amount spent on marketing. As he tried to figure out how he could increase profits, he noticed his Burger King cashiers were failing to radiate good cheer as they rang up customers. So he “established the BEAMER program, which taught our employees, mostly teenagers, how to make our patrons smile” by smiling themselves. It was a success: “Within three months of the program’s initiation, the sales trend was moving steadily higher.”

Notice that the conservative author thinks that his Beamer program is a reason or voting for Cain for president. Apparently, she thinks a president needs to appoint a new government agency designed to get people in the country to smile more.
Here is the story from his new biography, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House[3]

So as I took charge of the restaurant, I considered the one thing he could not put into a “you cannot do that” category: changing the attitude of all of my employees. I noticed that many of my cashiers were not smiling. At Burger King University we had been advised to tell the cashiers to smile because then the customers would smile and come back. So I established the BEAMER program, which taught our employees, mostly teenagers, how to make our patrons smile.

Within three months of the program’s initiation, the sales trend was moving steadily higher and the district manager raised his sales projections to upward of one million dollars – and I still had that Parmesan Sandwich on the menu.

The Beamer program had a simple but effective premise – look people in the eye and smile, and they will smile back, and it was a huge success. One day, at the end of a lunch shift, a lady who was sitting at a table where she could observe the entire front counter asked me, “Are you the manager?”

I assumed she had a complaint, because you usually don’t expect customers to stop you to say something is good. But she asked, “How do you get so many happy people at the front counter?” I smiled and thought to myself, “Yes, its working!”

Notice the addition of the woman to the story. Cain puts in the extraordinary detail that “she was sitting at a table where she could observe the entire front counter”. Cain is apparently worried that 25 years after this momentous event, someone will ask him, “How did she know that so many people at the front counter were smiling.” Cain answers the question, “because she was sitting at a table where she could see it.” Cain doesn’t answer the question why the woman would be interested in the facial expressions of the teenage girls at a fast food restaurant? Since every fast food restaurant and almost every retail industry for the past one hundred years has asked their cashiers to smile, one wonders why the woman would assume the workers were happy because they were smiling? Had she just gotten out of a mental facility where she had been kept under sedation since she was a child and had not seen cashiers at fast food restaurants smiling?

The woman is fictitious and the incident is fictitious, like the farmer’s wife in a joke, she is just a stock figure, the “satisfied customer.” She represents Cain’s ideal customer to provide a human punch line for his power of positive thinking example. If we take her as a real customer, we must assume that Cain is mentally challenged. Why would he give weight to a single observation of a single customer among thousands of customers? Why does he depend on a chance encounter to be reassured that his project is working? Might she not be an anomaly, one out of ten thousand who cares if her cashier smiles at her. Might the other 9,999 typical customers not prefer a serious face? Perhaps, she was just trying to come-on to Cain by saying something nice to him. Did Cain ask her if she was going to buy any more food because the cashiers were smiling? If Cain was serious about the project, he would certainly have done some research to see if his project was working rather than rely on a chance encounter with a chance customer. The story suggests that Cain had no real or significant feedback system in place to tell him if his change was actually producing satisfied customers or increased sales.

Cain is simply making up the incident to rhetorically reinforce his point. If not and he is, in fact, basing the success of his program on a woman’s chance remark than he is a completely incompetent manager who does not provide reasonable feedback mechanisms for his managerial changes, I think we can safely take the first as the most probable. The woman only appears because Cain wants a punchline for his power of positive thinking message-tale.

With the smile-loving woman out of the way, we can look at the other punchline in the tale, the money made from forced smiles. Claims makes two claims regarding the economic results:

How Much Money Did the Beamer Program Make?

Within three months of the program’s initiation, the sales trend was moving steadily higher and the district manager raised his sales projections to upward of one million dollars[4].

The two claims are 1) within three months of the program’s initiation, the sales trend ws moving steadily higher and 2) the district manager raised his sales projections to upward of one million dollars.

Cain only managed one restaurant during his time in a fast track executive learning program at Burger King. He managed it for three months[5], apparently from June to August, 1982. According to National Restaurant News[6] average sales at Burger Kings rose from May, 1982 to May, 1983 from $751,000 to $839,000. That is a rise of 11.7%. That sales trends “moved steadily higher” at Cain’s restaurant would have been expected with or without the Beamer program. We certainly cannot take this as evidence for any success of the Beamer program.

On his website New Voice Inc., Cain is more specific. He writes:

 When I took over as manager of the restaurant, its end-of-year sales projection was about $800,000. After three months of the BEAMER program, the District Manager (Mr. “Cannots”) revised the projection upwards to one million dollars, since the sales trend had moved up noticeably[7].

The regional manager would have been expected average monthly sales of $800,000/12 or  $66,666 per month when Cain took over. Since he moved it to $1,000,000, he was expecting sales of 1,000,000/12 or $83,333 a month by the end of the year. If the manager was expecting a steady rise equal to the rise that happened during Cain’s three months, we can assume that he imagined sales would go up $16,667 in the first six months from $66,666 to $83,333 a month and $16,667 to $100,000 the last six months. This would give us our $83,333 monthly average. Since Cain was there for three months, he must have raised sales half of the $16,667 six month rise or an average of $8,333 over his three months. It seems that Cain is saying that sales went from an average of $66,666 per month when he came to an average of $75,000 ($66,666 + $8,333) when he left three months later. This would be an increase of $25,000 ($8,333 x 3) over three months. The regional manager had been anticipating sales of $200,000 and Cain did sales of $225,000 in total over three months.

Cain Compared to the National Average Manager

If we are to believe Cain, his Beamer program allowed him to increase sales 12.5% for each of three months. We should compare that to the national average of 11.7% increase in 1982. Cain did .8% (12.5% – 11.7%) better than the national average. If we go back to the $75,000 per month in Sales, .8% would be $600. Assuming that the Beamer program was responsible for this entire rise above the national average, this means that it brought in $600/30 days or $20.00 per day. We can say that Cain’s Burger King made $20 per day in sales more for Burger King than if it had had an average manager and not Herman Cain and his Beamer Program..

How Much Profits Did Cain Produce for Pillsbury?

We have to remember that sales are not profits. Pillsbury made profits of $39.4 million in the last fiscal quarter ended May 31, 1982, just before Cain arrived. Revenues were 903.7 million[8]. Thus net profits were 4.3% of sales. Assuming Burger King did average profits for Pillsbury and the profits that Cain produced for Burger King was 4.3% of $600 per month, we get a total of $25.80 per month. On a daily basis it would be $25.80/30 or 86 cents a day. This does not sound like much, but over the three months that Cain was manager, this adds up to $77.40.

The Bottom Line Impact

The Beamer Program is the only thing that Cain has ever said distinguished him in his training program when he managed a store. One has to wonder if it was the extra $77.40 that Cain’s Beamer Program brought in over three months that got him his appointment as Philadelphia regional vice-president of 400 stores. Could it not have been rather the $50 million dollar Affirmative Action Agreement that Jessie Jackson PUSH organization signed on April 18, 1983 with Burger King that got him his appointment[9]? Since, Burger King had never had a black regional manager before, one has to consider that this was the primary reason behind Cain’s promotion. It seems likely that this is the reason that Win Waller, President of Pillsbury, had offered him a regional management position before he had even started his special training program.

Ruining the Data

I wish that I could say that Cain was consistent in the rather scanty figures he gives for the Beamer Program over the years, but he hasn’t been. Cain gives somewhat contradictory figures in other reports on his Beamer program. In 1988, for example, he reported in the Omaha World-Herald[10], “Six months later it broke $1 million in sales and was the top – volume restaurant for three consecutive months[11],”

If Cain is telling the truth here, then the restaurant must have made $225,000 under Cain in three months and $775,000 in the following three months under the man who replaced him. One wonders why in this case the man who followed Cain and raised his sales figures by 300% did not get appointed regional vice president. We can chalk up this discrepancy to Cain’s confused memory or perhaps the reporter’s misunderstanding.

The Truth About the Beamer Program

I have been having fun showing the absurdity of Cain’s own figures. The true figures aren’t important for Cain. He knows that Burger King does not release sales figures for individual restaurants. He knows that he can make up any figures he wishes and nobody can disprove it. The Beamer Program is not meant to be something that can be checked. It is a motivation parable designed to inspired people to admire Cain and his common sense.

Cain did reveal the true nature of the Beamer program in the previously mentioned 1988 interview:

Cain said he adopted what he called a “beamer program” when managing Burger King restaurants.

“Beamers,” he said, were employees with sunny dispositions who had ready smiles and were at ease making eye contact with customers.

“People who had trouble smiling were assigned to the kitchen,” he said.ATK Plan

Cain said he also practiced what he called the ATK plan in directing employees to do a job.

He said “A” stands for “Ask them to do it” and if that fails, “Tell them to do it.”

If that fails, he said, he moved on to K, which stands for “Kick ’em out.”

It was already the policy at Burger King for the cashiers to smile. Cain did no more than strictly enforce that policy with threats. He punished kids who “had trouble smiling” by assigning them to the kitchen. He asked them once, then told them to smile and then fired them. That was the entire program.

Kids who have to work at repetitive jobs at minimum wage during the summer while their wealthier friends and classmates get to hang out could not have been very happy. Cain forced them to hide their unhappiness with threats of being fired. Cain says in his new book, “The culture at burger King was intimidation, fear and screaming[12].” No doubt, Cain’s Beamer Program contributed to that atmosphere.

There is no evidence that his so-called Beamer Program helped Burger King employees, customers or owners in any way. It may have helped Cain’s low self-esteem by bullying and forcing young girls and boys to learn to be deceptive and repress their feelings behind a smile. Cain was no doubt doing what he had been taught by his parents. He described how they motivated him to a church congregation in 1989[13]:

 “When I was a child, I knew I was going to school, I knew was going to church and I knew I couldn’t talk back to my mother. But I had to decide to do well,” he said. “I don’t know why I wanted to do my lessons, other than fear. There are two things which you can use to motivate a child — fear and guilt. Make them feel guilty if they do wrong. Then you are speaking to their soul.

The abusive and senseless Beamer Program should be added to the series of motivational pseudo-parables that is the myth of Cain’s success as a businessman. It only points towards him being an abusive and abused person who has learned and teaches others to hide their feelings behind a smile. What that smile hides is not funny at all.

[1] Cain, Herman T.H.E. New Voice, Inc. “Achieving Your Dreams,”, viewed November 16, 2011.

[2] National Review Online, Katrina Trinko, This is Candidate Cain,  October 3, 2011 3:00 P.M.

[3] Cain, Herman, “This is Herman Cain! My Journey to the White House,” Threshold Editiona, 2011.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Computer World, Moving Out and Up to Corporate Offices, December 5, 1983

[6] Nation’s Restaurant News, Burger King ad strategy pushes unit volumes near $1M, May 21, 1984.

[7] Above. New Voice.

[8] New York Times [New York, N.Y], Pillsbury Posts Gain; Beatrice Off,

25 June 1982: D4.

[10] Omaha World-Herald, Beeder, David C., Godfather’s Chief: Success a Journey, Not a Destination, October 4, 1988

[11] Above.

 [12] Cain, Herman,  This is Herman Cain: My Journey to the White House,

[13] The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.), Simoneaux, Angela, Businessman calls for stronger families, October 16, 1989