New Kid In Town: Paul Brown on Spirit of Revitalization to Arby's
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New Kid In Town: Paul Brown on Spirit of Revitalization to Arby's

Paul BrownLast May Paul Brown made a bold move. He left behind his hotel management career to move into the food service arena, taking over as CEO of Arby's. But it's a move Brown was well prepared to make. He has extensive experience and a proven track record in leading global and franchise brands including Hilton Worldwide, Expedia, and InterContinental Hotels Group.

"What I have learned throughout by career in franchising is it is really a competition for capital," says the 46-year-old. "If a brand provides a great return on investment for franchisees, they will continue to invest and build with that brand." Brown says he loves the franchise business because it's a "relatively straightforward virtuous cycle." He sums it up like this, franchisees make a great return, franchisees invest and build more units, franchisor makes a great return, franchisor invests more in the brand, and begin again.

He believes Arby's value proposition is at the intersection of the QSR and sandwich space, which is a great space to be in at this time. Arby's provides high quality, hot and cold sandwiches, great shakes and fries, freshly prepared, served fast and at a great value. It is also the only national sandwich brand that offers drive-thru service. The ability to handle such a high-quality, complex product offering consistently and efficiently across 3,400 units globally is a big competitive advantage that he says the brand intends to continue to build on going forward.

There's been an active revitalization going on at Arby's and Brown is excited to join the team. Arby's has had 10 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales. Since 2005, the brand has opened an average of 85 stores per year globally. Midway through 2013, the brand has future development commitments for 177 new units (109 US, 3 Canada, and 65 international). All are signed commitments for stores and should be opened between now and 2022.

The Arby's brand has loyal franchisees some who have been with the brand for more than four decades, says Brown, adding that kind of passion is fundamental to sustaining growth.

"We seek out franchisees with high expectations who want to play to win, each and every day. We have such an exciting, iconic brand. It's important that our franchisees share that enthusiasm."

Name: Paul Brown
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Company: Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc.
Units/Brands (by number): More than 3,400
Age: 46
Family: Wife - Lisa; Daughter - Kelsey, 18, attending college in the fall; and son, Alex, 14, who is entering the 8th grade.
Years in franchising: 8+
Years in current position: Less than one


What is your role as CEO?
My goal is to lead Arby's through its continued revitalization building upon our currently strong sales performance and momentum and helping the company and our franchisees realize the full potential of the Arby's brand. My objective is to also work collaboratively with franchisees and Arby's leadership to enhance the company's culture, systems, and processes to further innovate Arby's product offerings, improve the customer experience, and achieve strong financial results for all stakeholders. Describe your leadership style.
I have worked in a wide variety of global industries, including high-tech, consulting, and hospitality. These have given me a breadth of experiences working with businesses with various needs. I would describe my leadership style as adaptive, thoughtful, decisive, and analytical. I believe it's important to take time and get to know the business - its customers, employees, and all other major stakeholders. I feel it is important to be thoughtful and listen as a leader, as a "one-size-fits-all" approach does not work in business and leading others. I like to work hard to get to know the members of my team and understand how they would like to be led and understand their working style. Different groups have different needs and everyone doesn't want to be managed the same way. What has inspired your leadership style?
Trial and error has certainly been a factor. It is the benefit of a relatively long and varied career. I think because I have worked for some great leaders in various cultures and situations, I am able to apply those lessons learned along the way as best practices in leadership. For example, my time leading Hilton's efforts to build the strongest portfolio of brands in the hotel sector and helping Expedia maintain fast-paced marketing and branding efforts to stay ahead of the competition. Each of these experiences provided valuable lessons in leadership that will be applied to help Arby's with our goal to win every day with our customers. How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
It all starts with talking about culture with front-line employees and making it a routine topic of discussion. Keeping the subject of culture top-of-mind and truly "living" your culture day in and day out keeps your culture strong and vital. At Arby's, our team members live our culture every day by delivering our brand promise to the customers they serve. Our brand values shine through in our restaurants, and we plan to continue to build upon this amazing culture. Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: MBA school or on the job?
An MBA degree can help build a foundational skill set, however, nothing can substitute for on-the-job learning about leadership. Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
One person has to be accountable but decision-making should be a collaborative process, relying on input from subject-matter experts around you. However, ultimately, someone has to make the call. Good leaders should strive to develop a culture of collaboration within the organization but always be willing to make the tough decisions. Do you want to be liked or respected?
I don't believe there has to be a trade-off. Ideally, you can be both. Regardless, you have to make tough decisions that not everyone will like, all of the time. This is obviously part of being in a leadership role. Advice to CEO wannabes:
Be patient. Take the time to make sure you have the necessary experience so you're adequately prepared for the job.


What does your management team look like?
Arby's is fortunate to have a fantastic leadership team with deep-rooted experience, each of whom has tremendous loyalty to the brand. How does your management team help you lead?
They are all experts in their respective fields - they bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and stellar advice to help make sound decisions that are in the best interest of Arby's. Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books? (please name):
I actually prefer Harvard Business Review articles to business books; however, I did recently read and enjoy a book titled The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. It's all about the importance of overall organizational health. I do enjoy reading books by Thomas Friedman. His book titled The World is Flat is a must-read in my opinion. I also just finished reading Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc.


What time do you like to be at your desk?
By 6:45 - 7:00 a.m. Exercise in the morning?
Ideally, I like to work out three times per week in the morning before work. Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
Yes, I believe interacting in a casual setting outside of the office is valuable to help get to know your team on more of a personal level. What technology do you take on the road?
Apple MacBook Air and iPhone How do you relax/balance life and work?
I enjoy spending time with family. We love to travel together. I also enjoy taking long walks with my dogs early in the morning on the weekends. Favorite vacation destination(s):
Southeast Asia and Vietnam are amazing. I also love Italy, Egypt, and the South of France. Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
When something extraordinary happens on a personal or professional level. Favorite company product/service:
Arby's Rueben Sandwich is my favorite at the moment and nothing can beat our curly fries; however, we have several others in the product pipeline that may soon become my new favorites. Be on the lookout for them soon!

Bottom Line

How has the economy changed your goals for your company?
Arby's is performing very well right now so we're planning to use this as an opportunity to grow market share and be positioned to make investments in the business to help position us for the future. How do you measure success?
Our success and growth as a brand depends on the growth of our franchise system. For that to happen, we must grow sales, transactions, and margins.
Published: September 11th, 2013

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