For Emil Brolick, it was a homecoming.
Late last year, he returned to Wendy’s Co. as its chief executive just as the Dublin-based fast-food company was back on its own again after being combined with Arby’s for three years.
Brolick was a marketing executive at Wendy’s in the late 1980s, when the company’s innovative products — such as baked potatoes and salads — and charismatic founder Dave Thomas made it an industry leader.
Brolick left Wendy’s in 2000 to become president and chief concept officer for competitor Taco Bell.
A year after returning to the nation’s No. 2 hamburger chain, Brolick talks about the company he never quite left behind.
Q: What was it like working with founder Dave Thomas?
A: Dave Thomas was the same person whether he was talking to the president of the United States or a Wendy’s customer. People felt comfortable around him, which was a great lesson in leadership for me.
He also is the originator of our brand. He had a tremendous sense for what made Wendy’s better, what made it different. He never let people forget those things: fresh, never-frozen beef from North America; a choice of sandwich toppings; unique products.
Q: Can you explain how Wendy’s became a fast-food leader during your first stint with the company?
A: We were a product innovator. We always focused on beating ourselves, not the competition. That’s one thing Dave Thomas really believed in. He always said, “When they zig, we’re going to zag.”
We believe the key to competitive strategy is playing a different game, not playing the same game better. Dave Thomas believed that in 1969, and Emil Brolick and the team believe that in 2012. Our goal is not to be the biggest, but it is to be the best.
Q: How do you describe the Wendy’s brand today?
A: We refer to our brand positioning as “A Cut Above.” We see ourselves at the high end of the quick-serve restaurant industry. Our goal is to bring the “A Cut Above” brand positioning to life in everything we do. We truly believe that as we do this, it’s going to drive same-restaurant sales, it’s going to allow us to build new restaurants, and it’s going to increase our return on invested capital, and therefore, create shareholder value.
Q: How is the breakfast effort going?
A: About one in four visits to quick-serve restaurants is for the morning meal. And the morning meal, over the last five years, has been the most-rapidly growing of the different “day parts.” So, we see breakfast as a business opportunity.