Grow Your Perspective on Leadership

Eric S. Elwell (IL ’14), district support engineer, Eaton Corporation

by Eric S. Elwell, Ignite Louisville Class of 2014 (May – November 2014) —

KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut: What comes to mind?  Don’t tell me.  I think I already know.

I have a confession to make; I worked at KFC R&D in January of 1991 during the “PepsiCo” days.  I was working on my college engineering internship, and I took a lot of ribbing from the guys at school.  KFC?  For engineering?  You kidding?  But it was an amazing experience.  I learned a lot — some good, some bad and some fun.  As I told friends back during the Tricon days (more later), “Buy their stock.  These guys are good.  Just give them time.”

On Wednesday, our Ignite Louisville class met at Yum! Brands to explore their “Achieving Breakthrough Results” (ABR) building blocks, based on work by Sam Su of their China division.  Cheryl VanAllen led the Ignite Louisville class through the tools, and provided an explanation of each along with how one might apply the entire toolkit.  A quick review of these tools would be confusing; what’s more important is understanding how and why Yum! applies these tools.  To do that, one needs to understand a little about the Yum! Brands history.

Yum! Brands is comprised of three major brands — KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut.  Each of these brands has a wonderful history in and of themselves; who doesn’t love KFC’s iconic Colonel Sanders? But as each of these brands developed, they were brought together under the PepsiCo umbrella.  Later the brands were divested into Tricon, and Tricon changed its name to Yum! Brands.  That’s where our present story begins.

David Novak was tasked with growing and shepherding these three huge and diverse brands.  Despite challenges, he took the organization’s stock from questionable to investment grade. The foundation of this growth was Novak’s push to develop people — Building People Capability.  This focus on developing people and leadership ultimately led to the creation of the “Achieving Breakthrough Results” toolkit.

Our time at Yum! provided a cursory view into the culture of the organization; some aspects of the Yum! culture and diversity of thought were discussed by John Kurnick, KFC US Chief People Officer, and Jason Marker, KFC US General Manager.  What a fantastic experience!  Yum! took our groups on a brief tour of the Tech Center and the White House… although I wish we would have had time to tour the R&D laboratories.

To my fellow Igniters: You may not like fast food — like anything, too much is bad for you — but Yum! Brands’ culture and methods are unique for Corporate America and you could do worse than reading one of Novak’s books to grow your perspective on leadership.