Burger King's new CEO, Daniel Schwartz, is 32 years old and running a company that he, at least on paper, has no business running. He came from Wall Street and has no restaurant experience. The results he is getting, however, are impressive. In the first quarter of this year, the company, which has struggled in recent years, posted same-store sales increases of 2 percent, while net income nearly doubled to $60.4 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
What we can learn from Schwartz's unlikely rise to the corner office is that talent, sometimes more than experience, can solve big business challenges. Burger King has experienced a total restructuring in Schwartz's 13 months on the job.
"I don't focus on how much experience they have," Tom Garrett, CEO of GPS Hospitality, which has purchased 61 Burger King franchises from the company since 2012, tells Bloomberg Businessweek. Schwartz and his executive team "are extremely smart, which makes them very, very fast learners."
The young CEO focused right away on learning. "Schwartz spent his first couple of months training in Burger King restaurants--cleaning toilets, making burgers, and interacting with customers," according to an article in Business Insider (via Yahoo). His strategy was to cut costs, selling most of the Burger King stores to franchisees, going from owning 1,339 in 2010 to just 52 today.
In tandem, the strategy has involved expanding the number of international stores. "Schwartz negotiated agreements with restaurant operators and financiers in Brazil, China, and Russia, where American hamburgers are still a novelty," the Bloomberg Businessweek article says. "They haven't just purchased restaurants from Burger King; they've also constructed new ones. As a result, the number of Burger Kings worldwide rose by 1,493 in 2013, to 13,667."
Summing up Schwartz's bold moves, Bloomberg Businessweek states: "That's such a departure from the way its competitors operate that some people are questioning the company's strategy."
Sometimes, in business, bringing a fresh perspective to age-old business problems can have groundbreaking results. The decision to hire someone young and inexperienced could have been seen as a risk. However, as technology advances and rapid change becomes the norm, experience is becoming less and less imperative, in my opinion. The types of solutions that are required to succeed are all about innovating on what has been done before, not using processes that have worked in the past. In fact, experience can almost be seen as a negative, because it prevents you from being completely creative with solutions. As an entrepreneur hiring or looking for opportunities, it's important for you to remember that someone's strengths, talent, and drive are, increasingly, far more important hiring criteria.
Schwartz has proven that doing things differently can work. "Wall Street has responded enthusiastically," the Bloomberg Businessweek article continues. "Burger King went public again in June 2012 in an offering that put a $4.6 billion value on the company. As of early July, its market cap had risen to more than $9 billion. The doubters are in the minority now, and many in the investment community would like McDonald's and Wendy's to mimic the kids at Burger King."
With that in mind, here are three career lessons I think you can learn from Schwartz's recent success:
1. You don't need experience to lead effectively. Instead, you need to be open to learning as you go. Schwartz spent time working in the burger chain's locations and learning the ropes of how a restaurant operates. Having a fresh perspective can be the breeding ground for more creative solutions.
2. Age is increasingly irrelevant. People achieve greatness at all ages. Great work is not age-dependent.
3. Focus on strengths, not credentials. Schwartz worked on Wall Street and had never worked in a restaurant before. All too often, we are held back from starting something new or working with a company that inspires us because we don't have the right degree or credentials. Talent is a far better measure of fit and potential. If what you are best at is the skill required to move the needle, it's the right opportunity.
Schwartz is a great example that success is about who you are, not what you have done. Kudos to Burger King for being innovative with how it thinks about leadership.