Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | October 2015 | By Robert Thomas

Start to Finish: Paul Brown

Arby’s CEO Paul Brown shares how the company's culture keeps him motivated on a day-to-day basis.
QSR chain leader shares ideas on building business culture in restaurant industry.
Paul Brown, CEO, Arby’s Arby’s

Like so many, my first real job was a grill operator for a fast-food chain when I was in high school. I still love this people-oriented, service-based industry today. It's brand-driven, and I love that my position with Arby's—and the industry in general—requires fast-paced, constant innovation. From the moment I stepped into the CEO role here, it was apparent that it was a wonderful culture spanning the whole brand. My team and I started working together on laying out the long-term vision, and it has been so gratifying to see hard work pay off.

There's never a dull moment. We've innovated our menu, changed our marketing and our service culture within the restaurants, and even started working on new concepts within the restaurants—there's always something to do and perfect. The goal is to stay focused on the execution of the vision for the brand. It's a challenge when things start working to switch gears and attack the desire to come up with something new. What we're doing is staying diligent on our long-term plan and innovating against it.

The immediacy of response within this industry is incredible. We can roll out our limited-time menu items, run ads, and test it in certain markets, and I check my email the next day and see if it's worked or not. It's a test-and-learn atmosphere, which other industries lack, and it's a fun business to be in because of that dynamic. Part of why we launched LTO items was because of that constant learning, change, and innovation.

I am consistently advocating and promoting a culture of innovation. Everyone has to be clear on where we're going and where the guardrails are. Not everything is going to work, and that's OK by me. Management and leadership are setting direction and parameters, but then letting go and letting people do their jobs. I'm lucky to be struck by new concepts every day that I've had little to no involvement in at all. There can't be a commanding type of governance process in this industry, and the brand has responded and grown from that mentality.

What is your favorite menu item at Arby's?

The Reuben. The team, however, keeps testing my loyalty with some LTOs like the Gyro and Loaded Italian.

What is your favorite food outside of Arby's?

I love a good steak.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I love to travel with family and friends to out-of-the-way places.

Which menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

I'm really proud of our frequent LTO approach. It creates a sense of variety, news, and our brand without creating operational complexity.

Who have been some leaders that inspire you?

Winston Churchill—one of the greatest leaders of our time because he learned from his mistakes.

What is the best piece of advice quick-serve executives should here?

You have to innovate, and it must come from within the organization and not from the top down.


great job turning the image of the "home of un-meat" into the FF place with the best (real) meat.  would love to see Jon Stewart do a "catching up with Jon" ad for the holidays tied to a mutual charity

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