Thursday, May 3, 2007

Spending Time With Wendy’s

Hamburgers are big business in the U.S., and in many other countries too. The 37 million or so burger fans in the U.S. float between McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. Since we won the Wendy’s business a few months back, my interest in hamburgers has increased exponentially. I’ve turned into a Wendy’s fanatic (but then, as Mandy Rice Davis said in the Profumo scandal of the 60’s, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he”).

I’m an Old Fashioned Hamburger guy – fresh beef, fresh salad, fresh tomatoes, and that's Wendy's. Yes, the quality and taste are exceptional but what inspired me to write about Wendy’s is not the taste experience but the people experience I had in their headquarters in Dublin, Ohio, last week. Wendy’s legendary founder and front man Dave Thomas was a value-driven guy and an inspired dreamer. His influence is still everywhere in the company, its franchisees and its customers. Dave believed in always doing what was right and was obsessed by execution, delivery and customer satisfaction. I’m not sure he was ever recognized as the true leader he was. When I look at the lauding of so many financially driven, private equity business leaders today, it seems to me most of them wouldn’t be fit to lick Dave’s shoes. Dreams, values, beliefs, and actions are what make great sustainable companies, not just financial performance. And it’s great to see Dave’s example living on in Wendy’s CEO, Kerrii Anderson, and CMO, Ian Rowden.

I was lucky enough to attend the Board of Directors meeting at Headquarters and saw for myself the passion for Dave’s ideals and the Wendy’s brand. Nelson Peltz and a few other hedge funds have taken an equity position in Wendy’s and management is having to deliver real growth to keep everyone satisfied. The trick will be to do this at the right pace without sacrificing the values that got Wendy’s where it is in the first place. The Legacy Board Members are very supportive of these standards and you can bet that the advertising we’ll be breaking in May will portray them in a contemporary, humorous and engagingly inspirational way.

One of the highlights of my visit was attending the dinner chairman Jim Pickett hosted for the Board at Muirfield Village Golf Club. We sat in the dining room overlooking the 18th hole, a Jack Nicklaus designed masterpiece. It was a sunny April evening, the Becks was cold, the food was beautiful and the conversation was stimulating. And, no, we didn’t have Double Cheeseburgers. If you are in Ohio, make the pilgrimage for a round at Muirfield Village. You’ll find plenty of Wendy’s restaurants en route.

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