How Steve Wiborg helps Burger King’s employees execute changes to widen brand appeal Featured

5:13am EDT March 1, 2012
How Steve Wiborg helps Burger King’s employees execute changes to widen brand appeal

As the new president of Burger King Corp.’s North American business, Steve Wiborg was charged with leading a brand suffering from declining sales and a limited menu. Under siege from a market flooding with fast food hamburger competition, it was struggling to keep its foothold in its narrow niche of 18- to 34-year-old male burger consumers.

Yet at the same time, the company was initiating a four-pillar strategy to enhance its menu, overhaul the restaurant image, streamline operations and improve marketing communications, even phasing out the company’s Burger King mascot. Wiborg had the opportunity to apply his 20 years of experience in the Burger King system to help the No. 2 hamburger chain start fresh and expand its appeal.

“When we’re looking at a larger consumer base, we’re really expanding our target to Quick Service Restaurants,” says Wiborg, who became the president of North America and executive vice president of Burger King Corp. in October 2010.

“Any of these changes has to do with focusing on 100 percent flawless execution. That’s really what everything is focused on right now in order to make everything we do or any of those four pillars come to life.”

Today, Wiborg is leading the roll out of these initiatives across 7,200 restaurants. Here’s how he drives execution to help is team deliver results and grow Burger King as a quick-service authority.

Engage your team

To make the brand more competitive, improvements in the new strategy called for the company to add new products, such as salads, desserts and breakfast items, as well as improve upon some existing products, such as a new french fry recipe. Wiborg was also responsible for implementing the company’s new “20/20” design at all of its North American locations, which would create a more attractive and brighter environment for guests. Coming in, he and his leadership team examined research to see where the brand stood in terms of cleanliness, speed of service, food quality and operations.

“That’s always going to be a challenge as we look to innovate off of different platforms and make sure we’re looking at our opportunities from competition,” he says.

But to make the sweeping changes the brand had in mind, Wiborg knew he needed to go outside of corporate to involve people in the process, especially because 90 percent of the company’s restaurants are owned by franchisees.

“It’s really our restaurants and employees that make the change in the end,” he says.

In the past year, Wiborg has added numerous programs and initiatives designed to increase collaboration between franchises and the corporate office. By inviting more employee and franchisee participation, it’s been easier to get people on the same page with consistency and alignment on goals.

“It’s a big system … and getting them all to agree is never going to happen,” Wiborg says. “You get a majority of them to agree, and as long as the other group understands where you are going and what their part of it is, then you’re going to have the best success.”

Because menu innovation was a change that would affect many franchisees, who would end up implementing it at their restaurants, Wiborg selected a handful of franchisees that had been in the system a long time and brought them to the company’s headquarters in Miami. Along with the brand’s vendors and suppliers, they spent three months working with R&D to update the menu to appeal for a broader audience.

“We had to take a look at every single item on our menu and make changes,” he says.

Recent menu additions include everything from funnel cake sticks to a Chef’s Choice burger and a variety of breakfast menu items.

Wiborg says that collaboration with franchises, combined with the initial research the company did in 2010, revealed the areas of the company’s menu and marketing strategy that had strong appeal — flame grilling and the Whopper, for example. But it also helped clarify areas for improvement and opportunities to reach more consumers, such as adding a dessert platform with soft serve ice cream.

Again, many changes in product often come back to execution. For instance, the decision to start cutting lettuce and onions in restaurant creates higher quality sandwiches but also requires more labor.

“There are a lot of things that go into the menu innovation process and how we roll that out,” Wiborg says. “Engagement of our franchisees has helped every step of the way.”

One way the company has improved employee engagement is by making sure everyone works together to set priorities rather than having the corporate office in Miami hand them down. Wiborg says that engaging your team is vitally important.

“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the engagement that you get from your employees when you make them part of the process and not just the execution part of the process,” he says.

To increase collaboration between corporate and the restaurants, the company created a marketing council, a restaurant council, a people council and a diversity council, each made up of approximately 13 franchisees and corporate members.

While Wiborg thought he’d initially have to twist some arms to get people involved, it was actually the opposite. It was just a matter of ensuring the councils were formed to represent a diversity of opinions. So to get a well-blended group, the company’s directors picked half of the council members and let the National Franchise Association, which a majority of the system belongs to, choose the other half.

“The great thing is there is a wide range of thinking on these councils,” Wiborg says. “It’s not everyone thinks the same and we all move cohesively. But if we can come to agreement in these councils of how to move the brand forward, I know we can move the system forward.”

For example, when the people council recognized a new way to improve communication at restaurants through virtual learning, the company introduced the initiative in 2011.

“It has been a great way to actually get things done within the system because it’s not just me of Burger King in Miami saying that this is the way we should do things,” Wiborg says. “It’s a group of 13 franchisees plus Burger King that all across the United States and Canada are coming up with the ways to move forward.”

Provide support

To build a better and stronger brand, Wiborg also knew that the company needed to narrow the range of excellence. So another challenge of execution was getting franchisees and employees operating in one consistent way across the system.

“We have all levels of excellence,” Wiborg says. “You may go to one Burger King and it’s your favorite Burger King, and then you go to another one and it’s less consistent. So it’s really about consistency.”

Wiborg says that for any brand that has national or global locations, improving brand consistency is often the result of how much support people have out in the field.

“So when you’re talking restaurant image and you know that that’s a very capital-intense decision, in order to move in the right direction, it was about coming up with programs that enable people to do that type of stuff,” he says. “It’s one thing to say we want to do 1,000 reimages in here in 2012. It’s another thing to be able to get there. So just because people know what I’m doing and I’ve been in Burger King a long time, you have to create ways for people to execute.”

That is true for each one of the four pillars the company is implementing. So to help franchisees and employees execute the numerous changes, the company launched a field optimization restructuring program in September to double its number of sales and operations coaches nationwide.

“When you look at operations, it’s one thing to say, ‘We want to have cleaner restaurants serving the best food with the best people and the fastest service,’” Wiborg says. “It’s another thing saying, ‘I’m going to double the field staff for Burger King.’”

Instead of having 80 field people working on operations, the company now has 160 people helping franchisees identify strategies to improve their businesses and offering field support.

“If I’m serious about being the best restaurant and operations company, I think I need to back that up by putting more people in the field working on becoming the cleanest restaurants, the fastest service, the best quality service, and that’s what we’ve done over the last six months here,” Wiborg says.

This added support has helped people stay focused on execution across the board so that no one area or location suffers. If one restaurant needs more help, the company has available resources to accommodate people.

“We have more touches now and we have more people in order to get that more consistent brand up there,” Wiborg says.

Be part of the process

Even through Wiborg felt employees trusted his leadership in implementing changes because of his history with the organization, he also knew getting them to buy in wholeheartedly would take personal investment.

“You have to be part of the process and lead throughout that process in order to be a good leader,” he says. “It’s one thing to say you want the process, it’s another thing to be part of the process.”

To help restaurants embrace the new menus, store images, marketing and operational improvements, Wiborg has been actively involved in discussions and implementations with restaurants. When they began to do the reimaging, Wiborg went out and visited franchisees in a 13-city tour. In the meetings, he worked with franchisees to take them through the new programs and help them understand the timelines, details and execution process.

The company did the same thing with the menu platform rollout. Wiborg often invites groups of franchisees from the NFA or larger franchisees in before rolling out new programs to get their feedback and figure out what support they need to be successful.

“I roll them out for them first and they help kind of shape things a little bit and work on the communication piece,” he says. “So it’s not just about Burger King. It’s about our franchisees and Burger King. If they are more successful, we’re more successful.

“The key to success of Burger King is helping all of our franchise businesses be more profitable and the best QSR business out there. Their engagement, the councils, working hand in hand helped us overcome that and get everyone moving in one direction.”

Wiborg says the four pillars — menu, restaurant image, operations and marketing — probably won’t change but will continue to evolve at different levels. For instance, the restaurant reimaging has already begun, with much of the progress anticipated to take place in 2012. On the other hand, menu innovation is something that Wiborg says is ongoing.

“I think Burger King is two things,” he says. “One is it’s a restaurant company and the second is it’s an operations company.

“Our biggest opportunities are moving all of those four pillars constantly and making those changes with the menu innovation, restaurant image and so on.”

While the company’s global revenue for the third quarter of 2011 was slightly higher than in 2010 — with $608.1 million — only time will tell how these changes play out and how consumers and employees will embrace them.

“I’ve seen a lot of success in the building blocks of what’s to come,” Wiborg says. “Now it’s about the executing part over the next year.”

How to reach: Burger King Corp., (305) 378-3000 or www.bk.com

The Wiborg File

Steve Wiborg

President of North America and executive vice president

Burger King Corp.

Born: Chicago

Education: B.S., Northern Illinois University

Burger King fast facts:

  • Founded in 1954, Burger King is the second largest fast food hamburger chain in the world.
  • The company operates more than 12,300 locations serving more than 11 million guests daily in 76 countries and territories worldwide.
  • In 2009, BKC was recognized by Interbrand on its top 100 “Best Global Brands” list and Ad Week has named it one of the top three industry-changing advertisers within the last three decades.
  • In October 2010, the company was purchased by global investment firm 3G Capital, which is focused on long-term value creation.

Wiborg on menu innovation: Every time we roll out a menu, we look how that fits into our brand. The different things that we’ve rolled out, whether it be toppers or different products or Chefs Choice Burger, it really needs to take the place of something else but be a higher quality. … So it really doesn’t stretch our brand it really stretches the ability for our consumers to want to go to Burger King.

Takeaways

1. Get your team engaged in key changes.

2. Provide support in areas of focus.

3. Be personally involved in the transition.