Home Community Voices Waffle House and Old Gorillas: A Book Review

Waffle House and Old Gorillas: A Book Review

Last week, I had lunch with an old gorilla. The old gorilla, defined not by age but by experience, is local resident Bert Thornton. 


Bert Thornton is the Vice Chairman Emeritus of Waffle House, Inc. At the finish of his career with the company, he was the President and Chief Operating Officer of the franchise. After a career and life in South Florida, Georgia, and Texas, Bert and his wife, Kathy, chose to make their home in Perdido Key. As with many Perdido residents, they are frequently in Pensacola where they volunteer, shop, and dine. 

For a deeper dive into my lunch with Bert, read his profile with The People of Pensacola, found here. But for this article, I want to focus on Bert’s books: Find An Old Gorilla and High-Impact Mentoring, the latter of which he co-authored with Dr. Sherry Hartnett. Dr. Harnett is a marketing and leadership professor, consultant, and mentor who founded the Executive Mentor Program at the University of West Florida.

You may have heard the phrase “a born leader.” But it should be encouraging to know that leaders are made, not born. Of course, people may be born with characteristics that give them the potential to excel as leaders, but having characteristics found in leaders does not make you a leader. Becoming a great leader is the result of execution over ideas and a humble behavior that allows you to learn and evolve over time. 

In his book, Find An Old Gorilla, Bert outlines many of the traits and behaviors of leaders and creates an exceptional case on the important role of a mentor in leadership development. It is true that you can figure things out on your own and achieve success, but having a mentor helps eliminate wasted energy and time that could have been saved through the wisdom gleaned from someone with a little more experience on a topic or in an environment. 

At the beginning of the book, he shares a story that revolves around an old gorilla, which creates a great image for the rest of the book. You’ll have to get the book to read the rest of the story, but you will not be disappointed in your purchase. At less than 60 pages, Find An Old Gorilla, Pathways Through The Jungle of Business and Life, is an easy read and relevant to anyone. 

The author’s intended audience may have been the business market, but the pearls of wisdom on every page apply to life in general. I read this book as a person with aspirations in the business arena and the mother of teenagers, finding the quotes, lists, and advice to be great reminders for my own achievements and in parenting. Unlike many books I’ve read on leadership, I knew without question that this book was the result of many years of life and work experience in a tough industry. It would make an exceptional book for gifting or to grab as a quick read to refocus on your career goals. 

It is the recipient of the 2023 Bugbee-Falk Book Award, which is a curated list of books chosen and given to winners that serve as a symbol of the selected students’ academic success, the need for continued learning, and their commitment to excellence. The title is listed alongside authors from Oxford University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, and Pensacola’s Quint Studer, whose book The Calling: Why Healthcare Is So Special is also listed. 

High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives by Bert Thornton and Dr. Sherry Hartnett, is a deeper dive into the role of mentors. What I love about the layout of this book is the perspective of both co-authors divided equally into Part 1 and Part 2 labeled Bert’s Advice and Sherry’s Advice. 

Seamlessly, Sherry takes Bert’s advice from Part 1 and demonstrates how to scale a mentoring program for a large organization. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to lead other people, no matter the size of the group. As I was reading each page, there were so many pieces of advice that apply to groups outside the business world: youth sports teams, church small groups, non-profit volunteer and board development, and so much more. 

This book offers a step-by-step guide to building a program and offers case studies for real-world applications. Each page is such a wealth of information, that the $20 price tag is actually pretty surprising. 

I would encourage you to pick up these two books today. Find An Old Gorilla is available on Amazon here. 

And High Impact Mentoring is offered here. 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.