Yum! Brands, parent company to Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, may bring in billions in profits, but the quick-service company also invests millions in giving back to their own employees. Launched in 2003, its Andy Pearson Scholarship, named for the company’s founding chairman, has provided restaurant associates with nearly $6 million in grants for higher education.
“We have a very unique culture, and the company was founded on the idea of developing leaders at all levels in the organization,” says Mark Lagestee, vice president of human resources for Yum! Brands.
The investment has paid off in the form of almost 2,500 scholarships to date, which company executives are considering a key milestone. On average, Yum! awards $500,000 in grants each year to its employees, Lagestee says, and for the 2014-2015 year, the company awarded 230 scholarships, totaling $530,000 in grants. About 90 percent of scholarships go to restaurant associates, Lagestee adds.
In recent years, Yum! Has taken to social media to get the word out to its employees about the opportunity, with strong results. “If our team members go to college, get a better education, and stay with us, they become better and better team members,” Lagestee says. “Our whole model is built on people building their careers and becoming managers, area managers, and area coaches.”
But even if associates who capitalize on the scholarship opportunity don’t stay with Yum! Brands, the investment is worthwhile, Lagestee says. “What we try to do at this organization is teach our members life skills, he says. “We still think it’s great that we were able to provide them an opportunity they may not have otherwise received.”
Yum! Brands’ investment in educational opportunities is matched nearly on par by Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut on an individual basis. Each brand operates its own employee incentive programs. At Taco Bell, the focus is getting high school students to graduate through the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, which provides college scholarship to teen restaurant employees. KFC’s Foundation’s Reach Educational Grant Program has awarded employees $2.6 million in educational grants in the past three years.
“What we’re passionate about is that we believe our customers’ experience will never exceed that of the team members in the restaurant,” Lagestee says. “That’s why we invest in our associates.”
By Tamara Omazic