Becoming a Global Leader: Insight from MU Alumnus and CEO

David Novak, a 1974 alumnus of the Missouri School of Journalism, has been recognized as “2012 CEO of the Year” (Chief Executive magazine), “30 Best CEOs” (Barron’s), and “100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World” (Harvard Business Review). Novak leads Yum! Brands, Inc., a multinational business that is the parent company to Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC. Operating more than 40,000 restaurants in more than 125 countries, with 1.4 million employees, Novak’s leadership and drive to empower diverse workforces is the very bedrock from which Yum!’s astounding growth has taken place over the last decade.

David Novak Yum brands

Yum! Brands CEO stands in his office where hundreds of photos of him with his employees hang on the wall (and ceiling)  Photo credit: Financial Times

It is not often students get to listen and interact with a top Fortune 500 CEO. Especially not one who is as exuberant and thinks as out-of-the-box as David Novak.  One of the world’s top-performing CEOs, Novak continues to be an inspiring global leader. In his presentation at his alma mater, the Missouri School of Journalism, Novak shared his experiences and insight on being a global leader and building Yum! into a global brand. His main message is simple: you must take people with you. Exuding charisma and passion for his job, Novak shared his vision of how to lead your brand into the global market. He painted a picture of a world that is big, yet small. We have language, customs, and traditions that shape our identity, shows us who we are, but there is also a shared global vision which brands can create to make us feel like we are part of something bigger. Novak said recognition, valuing people, customer service, and teamwork are some of the basic, unifying principles that bind us together and lead to successful global brands. This was his vision for Yum! Brands from the beginning, “We want to be the company that teaches how you build a global company.” With 40,000 restaurants employing more than 1.4 million people in 125 countries, Yum! Brands is doing just that. When Novak became CEO of Yum! Brands in 1997, the business world looked almost reverse of what you see now. “In 1997, 80% of our business was in the US, in 2014, 80% of our business is outside the US,” Novak said.

One potent ingredient Novak uses to propel Yum! Brands forwards is not what you might think. It’s a heaping helping of FUN! In fact this is what he is largely known for. The CEO who starts off meetings with the Yum! Cheer, also hands out rubber chickens and cheese hats as gifts to outstanding employees. He has handed out thousands over the years, all over the world. He takes his photo with the honored employee and hangs it on his office wall, although now they hang from the ceiling as he has run out of wall space! And surprisingly it creates a positive energy throughout the organization and serves as a reminder that leading is a team-effort…and there is no reason why it can’t be fun!

David Novak

Novak having a bit of fun while handing out KFC and wearing the infamous cheese hat. Photo Credit Business Insider

David Novak in his office

Photos of Novak with Yum! Brands employees take up all the wall space and most of the ceiling

Moving Yum! into a global brand has been the result of a shared vision Novak has cultivated among employees worldwide. His successful strategy of moving people forward with this vision is in part due to how he thinks a leader should act. “People want to work for a coach. Not a boss. Be a coach! Help them fulfill their potential. Recognize and encourage them.” He offered a few insights to apply when you move into a leadership role:

1. Be self-aware- what perception do people have of you? If you do not know, ask!

2. Be a “know-how” junkie: be an “all-world learner”. The more you know the more you care.

3. Celebrate others’ ideas more than your own

4. Trust people

5. Create a shared experience for your team: people need to understand why they’re doing something

6. Have a plan

7. Be your best

Novak’s vision has universal appeal because it can apply to as he said, the person washing dishes to managers to a global leader overseeing a multinational business. It’s about realizing we are all part of something bigger. He finished by saying even though things in the world do not always look positive there is a bright spot. “Now, it’s more than the American dream, it’s the world dream and there has never been more opportunity.”

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