When Paul Brown joined Arby’s as its CEO in May 2013, he was faced with the challenge of revitalizing a 50-year-old brand.
It had begun to recover from operating at a loss of $350 million when it was split off from the Wendy’s/Arby’s group in 2011, but its new majority owner, the private equity firm Roark Capital Group, felt it had untapped potential.
Roark hired Brown from the hotel group Hilton Worldwide. Brown spent his first six months on the job interviewing as many people as possible in the company, from the leadership team to restaurant employees across the US.
He oversaw a brand transformation that made the company relevant again, and last year Arby’s had its most successful year ever, with $3.7 billion in total sales and an average of $1.1 million in sales-per-store in the US, up 20% from 2013.
We spoke with Brown about his business philosophy, and he shared his three favorite management books, which he said helped during the Arby’s transformation.
‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis‘ 2003 bestseller, later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of how the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane transformed the game of baseball during the team’s 2002 season.
The A’s had the third lowest salary in Major League Baseball, but still managed to outperform their previous season despite many big-name players on opposing teams. Beane stretched the A’s salary by building a team focused on statistics like on-base percentage rather than ones like batting average, which data analysis proved to be less important.
Brown sees Arby’s as the A’s and much larger competitors like McDonald’s as the New York Yankees, he told us.
Brown said that many people don’t think of it as he does, “but ‘Moneyball,’ I think, is a phenomenal management book.”
‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek
“People don’t buy what you do,” leadership consultant Simon Sinek said in a massively popular TED Talk based on his 2009 book “Start with Why.” “People buy why you do it.”
This simple but potentially profound idea was front of mind for Brown when he became Arby’s CEO. He realized that Arby’s had switched marketing approaches so frequently that its own employees no longer knew what the company stood for.
After a six-month listening tour, Brown led a reimagining of Arby’s as a company that would offer customers products they couldn’t get from any competitor, from a company that was both playful and welcoming.
‘A Whole New Mind’ by Daniel Pink
When we spoke to Brown, he had a copy of Daniel Pink’s 2005 book in front of him.
Pink argues that creativity and innovation need to be given utmost importance in every organization, well beyond Silicon Valley. Brown has taken this point to heart.
Brown said that the fast food companies that are succeeding today are those that are managing to stay innovative without alienating core customers. It’s why he oversaw a significant redesign of Arby’s restaurants, as well as the introduction of 20 new menu items.
“If you don’t like constantly coming up with new ideas and having to rethink the product, then this is not the industry for you,” Brown said.
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