Yum CEO Greg Creed named Restaurant Leader of the Year

Image Credit: W. Scott Mitchell Photography

Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed has been selected by the editors of Restaurant Business as the 2019 Restaurant Leader of the Year, a top industry honor recognizing the visionary who has most adeptly steered a restaurant brand to outstanding success.

In Creed’s instance, it was his consistently bold and brilliant stewardship of three major brands—Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut—that earned him the selection. Together, those chains form what is believed to be the world’s largest restaurant operation, with 46,000 restaurants in 140 nations generating $46 billion in 2017 sales. 

The numbers have been growing despite a pronounced industrywide slowdown in many parts of the world, including the United States. At a time when wholesale restaurant closings have become routine news, Yum is growing and rejuvenating its charges at the rate of seven restaurant openings per day.  

One of the drivers of that growth has been innovation, a hallmark of Creed’s four-year tenure as CEO and, before that, his four years as CEO of Taco Bell, Yum’s biggest business. On his watch, the segment-dominating chain has introduced breakfast, launched a value menu, added alcoholic beverages at selected units, set a benchmark for limited-time offers with the Doritos Locos Taco and snagged attention with such off-beat products as Nacho Fries and a taco that uses a piece of fried chicken as its shell.

Pizza Hut has jumped ahead of its competition and much of the casual-dining segment by offering beer delivery from 300 stores, and KFC has engineered a remarkable turnaround through its unusual guest-spokesman ad campaign, new product introductions and having the home office play a much bigger role in marketing. 

Yet he readily attributes those achievements to the work of the larger team at Yum. At a meeting of the company’s investors in December, Creed said he regards the assembly of talent at the company to be his greatest achievement. 

As Restaurant Leader of the Year, Creed will be saluted at Restaurant Business’ 2019 Restaurant Leadership Conference (RLC) in Scottsdale, Ariz., on April 7-10. 

Past winners of the award have included Ron Shaich, chairman of Panera Bread; Paul Brown, then CEO of Arby’s (and now CEO of its parent, Inspire Brands); Greg Flynn, CEO of Flynn Restaurant Group, the industry’s largest franchise operator; and Danny Meyer, chairman of Shake Shack and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group.

The winner is selected by RB’s editors, with input from the planning committee of RLC. Among the criteria weighed and used as a springboard for debate among the editors are consistency in financial performance, sustained growth, corporate culture and innovation.