A Conversation on Conservation: How a Successful Franchise Owner Found His Second Calling in Helping Protect Wildlife and Their Habitat

Article excerpt

Rick Flory has gone from selling pizza to selling passion for the environment, and he brings with it the same enthusiasm he's brought to all his endeavors--from building the nation's second-largest Domino's Pizza franchise to taking photographs of the great outdoors.

His Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation promotes "conversations about conservation," as Flory's wife, Lee Robert, puts it, and funds protective efforts through challenge grants awarded to more than 100 conservation and wildlife protection groups--including AMERICAN FORESTS.

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Flory and Robert's environmental partnership began eight years ago with a chance conversation.

"It was suggested to me by a friend that I attend Creative Living Fellowship, a nondenominational church in Phoenix, Arizona," Flory remembers. "When I got to the church, I looked around and noticed an empty seat by a pretty brown-haired girl. We got to talking and discovered we both liked thin-crust pizza."

It's a relationship based on more than just thin-crust, however. They share a love for the arts--photography for Flory, music for Robert. And both have "a great appreciation for the Native American way of living in harmony with the land ... [and] similar philosophical and spiritual values as well as entrepreneurial values," Robert says.

Flory founded Earth Friends in 1996 with the thought of a second career after Domino's. "Rick talked about the Foundation and his dreams for it almost immediately," Robert recalls. Although Flory asked her to become executive director, Robert instead volunteered her help with administrative work, which allowed her to continue with her communications and public speaking business. She took on the executive director's job three years later.

The couple sold their individual businesses on the same day in 2002 to devote themselves full time to Earth Friends; they married three years later. They continue to run the foundation single-handedly and like to show their enthusiasm and commitment by meeting with each partner individually. "Rick has come to realize that the real work often gets accomplished when you are meeting face-to-face with a partner organization," Robert says.

That dedication has paid off--what began as 36 partnerships has since grown to 110. A good attitude and a seemingly inexhaustible amount of enthusiasm allow them to meet with each partner twice during the year. "This is fun work!" Robert says cheerily. "We are both very passionate about the environment."

Their efforts, however, do not stop at just making grants. "In addition to conservation groups, we try to raise our visibility as much as possible through public speaking to civic clubs, newsletters, music, and involvement with organizations that are not specifically focused on conservation: Toastmasters, National Speakers Association [which was founded by Robert's father, Cavett Robert], book clubs, artist and writers group, and church," explains Robert.

Their newsletter, which the Foundation sends to all its partners, friends, family, and past business contacts, is designed to "engage mainstream America in the very important issues facing all of us with the environment.

"We try to give enough information to whet the appetite," Robert says, "but not so much that eyes glaze over. …