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QSR Interview

Why the Customer is So Important to David Novak
The Yum Brands CEO tells QSR what drives innovation in his global food company and what he considers a “home run.”
David Novak has ideas about his goals toward making Yum Brands the defining global company that feeds the world.

In the May 2010 issue of QSR, Yum Brands CEO and chairman David Novak was selected among the top ten quick-service industry leaders. As one of the segment’s 10 Most Innovative People, Novak has lead the charge at one of the world’s largest quick-service companies for the last six years.

In just half that time, the company’s World Hunger Relief effort has generated massive awareness, volunteerism, and funds for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other hunger relief organizations saving millions of lives. To date the initiative has raised $60 million for WFP.

During his 20-year tenure with the company, Novak has more firsts than even he can count. Among the hundreds of innovations during Novak’s run is the iCHING internal business network, which allows employees worldwide to collaborate and share best practices; the Achieving Breakthrough Results high-impact leadership training; an aggressive international expansion program; and such popular menu roll outs as the Kentucky Grilled Chicken product line.

Last year marked the ninth consecutive year that Yum opened more than 1,000 restaurants outside the U.S. And the company is ranked No. 239 on the Fortune 500 list, with revenues of nearly $11 billion in 2009.

In Novak’s own words, here’s just exactly where all those good ideas come from.

QSR: Where do you get your best ideas?

David Novak: Customer insights and building know how. It’s so important to be an avid learner, pursuing knowledge and best practices inside and outside our company.

Building know how is one of our How We Win Together principles that defines our culture, and it’s a key to innovation. Breakthroughs come when we get people with knowledge thinking creatively. I also like to practice pattern thinking, which is the ability to make connections, pick up on consumer insights or trends and apply what’s going on in the world to our business.

Is it harder to find innovation in a company the size of Yum! Brands as compared to smaller businesses?

Our mission is to constantly listen to the voice of our customers, connect with them, and always reach for new innovations and excellence in everything we do. We have leading brands that are loved by customers around the world in 100 countries, but we’ve found ways to make a big company feel small so each individual feels a personal connection and accountability to building the business.

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