Northwestern Alumni Get a Taste of Pizza Hut’s Secret Sauce

whatsoverI had the opportunity to attend a meeting of Dallas area Northwestern University alumni last night.  Pizza Hut/Yum! Brands on Plano’s corporate super highway hosted us—in all our purple panache. Great, convivial crowd—including DFW graduates of the Kellogg School of Management, as well.

Scott Bergren, CEO of Pizza Hut U.S. and Yum! Brands, was a delightful, genuine, and inspiring raconteur. In fact, he launched his presentation with a preamble that demonstrated he is a leader who truly walks his talk. He has effectively turned this fast food ship around through a precise understanding of his customer, as well as his business. He shared that he even did some market research about the NU group’s expectations of his presentation, and he discovered we prefer to hear stories—the tales of his life, personal dilemmas, successes and the connections to Northwestern that have helped propel his life’s trajectory.

He did not disappoint.

Open about being in his mid-60s, the fit and facile corporate mogul spoke with conviction about his intention to keep delivering the pizza profits— indefinitely. Along the way, he inserted several delicious nuggets of wit and wisdom—worth repeating.

  • Be a “possibilitarian.” Bergren  described himself as such—committed to seeing the possibilities in everything and every idea.  He explained that many corporate cultures reward the naysayer and the hole-puncher. The solution may not always be obvious, but he is willing to be relentless in finding one. That’s how true innovation is nurtured and achieved. He observed, “Steve Jobs did not really make anything. He made things happen.”
  • Make your ideas “sticky.” As marketing copywriter from way back, I love this one. It’s not enough to have idea. It needs to resonate and to literally “stick” in the human psyche and/or organizational zeitgeist—working with external markets or internal teams.  His example was his latest buzz concept — “Rebuild America”  inside Pizza Hut. His staff members in the audience nodded enthusiastically. It started out as something like “Rebuild the Pizza Hut business in America,” but it became the internal battle cry for an audacious goal and compelling vision as “Rebuild America.”
  • Find a “work buddy.” This does not mean the girlfriend you go to lunch with and to review the latest gossip. Bergren is talking about a challenging mastermind relationship that provides a rigorous intellectual workout. He says this is particularly important for leaders. He suggests cultivating a comrade in a completely different discipline or functional area—someone who thinks differently. It may be an accountant or a software programmer—someone who can help you see the things you can’t—and from a completely different perspective.
  •  Ask the right questions.  Bergren explained that one of the most critical success qualities in asking the right questions—significantly more important that serving up the right answers. He attributes his success at Pizza Hut to knowing what questions and when to ask them.  Cultivating curiosity. He recommends asking those questions of everyone involved—from customer to colleague.

After all, “There are no right answers to the wrong questions,” says Ursula K. Le Guin.

This was just a taste of last night’s our fascinating fast food feast.  Great times with my Northwestern tribe. Go Wildcats!

What was questions are you asking today?

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