This Lifechats is part of the Andrea Will LifeChats Series in Finance & Accounting,
sponsored by the Andrea J. Will Memorial Foundation.
As CEO of Wendy’s International, Kerrii Anderson provided leadership in a time of transition, recognizing the need to transact while transforming Wendy’s. She developed a strategic vision and plan for the Wendy’s brand on a standalone basis, with support of the Board, which included activist shareholder nominees. She, along with her team, executed the IPO and spin-off of Tim Hortons, creating $4 billion of value for shareholders. During this time of uncertainty, she engineered the turn-around of Wendy’s sales, as well as filled the product pipeline. She led the reorganization of field operations and corporate, to include early retirement and reduction of workforce to achieve a $100 million reduction in General & Administrative (G&A) and Field cost in 2007. Anderson successfully executed a seamless transition of the merger of Wendy’s and Triarc, which resulted from a year long Board Strategic Committee process.
Read Anderson’s full bio at the end of the LifeChat.
Believe in yourself and have confidence. You can overcome any challenge by being yourself – be authentic!As interim CEO, I may have been in a temporary position, but I went about my job with the mentality that I could incite change, and felt a duty to do so.
Overcoming self-doubts and leveraging differences to bring value
I had doubts about myself as much as anyone would. I was always self-conscious about being a woman from the South. Once I embraced my background, I realized it turned out to be one of the best things for my profession, and something that set me apart from everyone else.
Work/Life Integration (from the perspective of a mother and a CEO)
Being a mom has, more than anything, taught me patience in the home and office.Being a mother puts me in the hearts and shoes of other women. In doing that, it helps me better help the women in my organization, because I understand them. As women, we want to believe that we can do it all, and we can do it all on our own. But I have needed help and support throughout, even before having kids.The decision to return to work after having kids is one a woman has to make for herself, based on her own individual life goals.I am here to tell women who are unsure if they can juggle both a career and family, it is possible. You can do it, but not without help. It is important to cater to working moms and accommodate them, because they are an important asset to any industry. I want these mothers working with me, and other organizations should desire that diversity in their workforce as well.
Entering the professional world, especially as a woman, it’s common to feel self-doubt and to question yourself. I did it and it was difficult to overcome. You have to go into these tough situations with the mentality that you can take charge and do it by being yourself and only yourself. That’s what leadership is about – believing in yourself and having a proactive, confident mindset.
Has your background or upbringing played a role in the way you approach leadership?
I had doubts about myself as much as anyone would. I was always self-conscious about being from North Carolina. I thought there was a stigma attached to being a woman from the South. I thought my accent caused people to question my intelligence. For a long time, I felt like I was fighting a stereotype, which drove me to work that much harder. It was the wrong motivation, however. Once I embraced my background, I could finally use my unique traits in my work. My dad raised me no differently than he would have a boy, which gave me the mentality that I could do anything a boy could. That was strength my family and background gave me that I didn’t realize the value of until I left for the real world.
How did you turn your insecurities into strengths?
Once I embraced my insecurities, they turned out to be one of the best tools for my profession, and something that set me apart from everyone else. For example, part of my job was delivering bad news, as any leader must at times. I certainly didn’t like to deliver it, especially since I sincerely cared about the troubles faced by those in my organization. However, I happily found that I could deliver bad news, but do it with a smile on my face in my southern accent, and people felt that things were going to be okay.
Further, growing up on tobacco farm, I interacted with the workers regularly—it was a down to earth upbringing that prepared me to deal with all sorts of people. After graduating from Duke, I was assigned to the task of doing inventory checks on textile mills. This was a job that required me to visit factories at around 2:00 a.m. and interact with the employees working the night shifts. It was daunting, but because of my upbringing, I was able to communicate with these workers easily and give them my undivided attention, and the same respect I would give to a CEO.
How did your shift from CFO to interim CEO change how you saw leadership and your relationship to the company?
I had always been dedicated to the company, but being interim-CEO made me passionately loyal to my constituents. I got to know the people I was serving in this new position, which fostered a sense of responsibility. I built a relationship with my constituents – something integral to the success of any company. I may have been in a temporary position, but I went about my job with the mentality that I could incite change, and felt a duty to do so. I spent my six months using the knowledge of the company I had acquired over six years to fix the problems Wendy’s faced.
What were some of the key issues facing Wendy’s when you were promoted from CFO to interim CEO? How did you approach these issues as a leader in an interim position?
The company was struggling, and I inherited a whole host of problems. For one, the cost of food products had increased, but the company had not raised the cost of its products. In addition, we had not rolled out a new product in a while. The key issue was that we needed to improve margin and reinvest in our restaurants, which were declining, so the proposition of spending more money was daunting to the board and franchise-owners without a plan to improve margins. I knew I could either face the problems or hide behind the title of “interim.” But failing to act would be doing a disservice to the business and the shareholders. Although I was in an interim position that involved temporary responsibility, I felt a surprising level of loyalty to the company and a passion for improvement. I had been at Wendy’s for six years, and I knew the challenges and felt I owed it to the constituents to move forward, reconcile the interests of all parties involved, and move toward progress. I always felt that we owed it to the people we serve to do the best we can do, so I did not shy away from the hurdles.
What were the steps you took to fix these problems and what response did your proposals garner?
In business, product development is often a surefire way to ensure sales improvement. So, I proposed we introduce the option of a vanilla Frosty. Until then, Wendy’s had only offered a chocolate Frosty, and many thought an additional option would cannibalize these sales. As a mother, I knew some moms would only allow their children to eat vanilla products, not chocolate. Because of this, I presumed mothers would be more inclined to purchase a Frosty if there was a vanilla alternative, creating an entirely new consumer base. I brought up the idea and discussed it with the franchises. My self-confidence made people feel more comfortable following me and embracing the change. However, there were concerns – it had operational complexities, but I went in with a determined mindset to fix our problems and turn our slump around, so I stuck with my gut, even when things didn’t always go smoothly. I think this comes with self-confidence. We offered the Vanilla Frosty and sales nearly doubled during promotion, which smoothed the transition Wendy’s underwent from the period of stagnant growth to one of improvement. Along with these changes, we managed to help reduce costs by $100 million in nine months.
Why did you ultimately decide to submit your name for consideration for the permanent CEO position?
I was originally unsure, wavering between thinking I should and wondering if I was the appropriate person. However, toward the end of my experience as interim-CEO, I truly came to feel I was the most appropriate person for the job. This was mainly due to my immense loyalty to the company and the people I served. I wanted to continue to do my best in the position for them, so I decided to submit my name for consideration. I was appointed CEO, and served in the position from 2006-2008.
How has being a mother prepared you for your job and made you a better leader?
Being a mom has, more than anything, taught me patience in the home and office. My children keep me young and energetic. They also keep me very much in tune with the technological advances of the time and the new things that are important for a business person to know about her target consumers. Being a mom also puts me in the hearts and shoes of other women. In doing that, it helps me better help the women in my organization, because I understand them. As women, we want to believe that we can do it all, and we can do it all on our own. But I have needed help and support throughout, even before having kids. My husband has been wonderfully supportive. He is a CEO himself, and we both decided before having kids to hire a nanny so we could both work. I knew I did not want to give up my career.
How have others reacted to this decision?
The sad thing is, I think there is judgment on both sides of the situation—working moms judge those who stay at home and stay-at-home moms judge working moms. I had to come to grips with it because I think it is a decision a woman has to make for herself, based on her own individual life goals. Work is my drive and something that truly motivates me – I know I could never spend all my time at home. I placed greater emphasis on quality of time vs. quantity of time with the kids because I was working. It’s not what everyone wants, but it’s what I wanted. I am here to tell women who are unsure if they can juggle both a career and family, it is possible. You can do it, but not without help. So, at work, I give the women who are in the same position as me more leniency and flexibility, knowing they are facing different hurdles than other workers focusing only on their professional lives. It is important to cater to this population and accommodate them, because they are an important asset to any industry. I want these mothers working with me, and other organizations should desire that diversity in their workforces as well.
How have your educational experiences shaped who you are?
Growing up, my home town was Elon. I didn’t want to go to school where I had lived all my life, so I accepted admission elsewhere. When it turned out not to be the right fit, I transferred to Elon University and switched to a four year degree, as opposed to the two year accounting degree I was originally pursuing. Part of the reason I did this was because a woman, who later became one of my accounting professors, told me I would have to work harder at Elon, and it wouldn’t be easy. Maybe it was because of my competitive nature, but when that gauntlet was thrown down, I took the challenge and ended up graduating with a 4.0 GPA. People always tend to rise to the occasion when more is being asked and expected of them. Graduating from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business also gave me a lot of confidence. It was proof I could do something completely on my own.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to Kerrii Anderson who is about to graduate from Elon?
I would advise all new graduates to focus on life-long learning – always striving to learn and improve one’s skills. Commit to exercise to reduce stress and improve your health. Learn to play golf…it’s a great business facilitator and an easy way to get to know individuals on a personal and business level.
Full Biography of Kerrii Anderson
Kerrii B. Anderson is the former chief executive officer and president of Wendy’s International. She joined the company in September 2000 as executive vice president and chief financial officer. She was promoted to the CEO position in April 2006 and left upon the merger of Wendy’s with Triarc Companies, Inc. to form Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Inc. in September 2008. She was a member of the company’s board of directors from 2001.
Prior to joining Wendy’s, Kerrii was senior vice president and chief financial officer for 14 years for M/I Schottenstein Homes, Inc., a NYSE company that is one of the nation’s leading builders of single-family homes.
Anderson’s financial career includes positions in accounting and investment firms, as well as public companies, including KPMG and RJR Nabisco.
Anderson sits on the boards of the following public corporations: Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (LH), Chiquita Brands International (CQB), P.F. Chang’s Bistro (PFCB), and Worthington Industries, Inc. (WOR), She also serves on the following non-profit entities: Columbus Foundation Audit Committee, Ohio Health Board of Trustees and Finance Committee member, and Elon University Board of Trustees.
She is a certified public accountant and earned her Masters in Business Administration from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Anderson graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration and a minor in accounting and economics from Elon University in North Carolina.
She has been married to Douglas Anderson for 24 years and has two children: Alexa (18) and Taff (16).
The Andrea J. Will LifeChat Series in Finance & Accounting is sponsored by the Andrea J. Will Memorial Foundation. More information at www.ajwmf.org.