There’s a fifteen hour time difference between Dallas and Singapore. When we spoke with Ben Dunham, our Pizza Hut CFO in Asia, it was pretty late in the evening for him and quite early for us. Despite the odd hours, Ben had nothing but great things to say about his experience traveling the world with Pizza Hut. If global mobility is critical to your career, then consider this: there are Pizza Hut restaurants almost 90 countries around the world: we’re a truly global organization. We talked to Ben about his experience in building a global career, and what it’s been like since he moved to Singapore two years ago.
Tell us about yourself! How did you start with Pizza Hut?
While studying for my MBA in Chicago, I was looking for opportunities with consumer brand companies in particular industries and areas that I was passionate about. When I first heard about Yum!, I didn’t know much about them and actually got an internship offer that I turned down. A friend of mine took the internship, and later told me how great his experience was. I took a second look at Yum! and was intrigued by the culture and the people. The deeper I looked, I saw a company with an amazing track record of growth, tremendous opportunity, and intelligent and authentic people.
I joined Yum! in Louisville working in Mergers & Acquisitions after I graduated from my MBA program. After 18 months of working with all five U.S. brands [KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s and A&W] selling our company owned restaurants to franchisees, an unexpected opportunity opened up and I had the chance to move into a newly created role of Manager, Investor Relations. It was an exciting chance to work directly with the Yum! Leadership Team on the earnings announcements and investor meetings. I gained exposure to Yum! leaders such as David Novak and Rick Carucci along with the chance to really have an impact on how we tell the Yum! story to investors.
Towards the end of that role, I had the opportunity to report into Pat Grismer who was then the head of Yum! Strategy and Investor Relations. He helped me determine the importance of getting closer to the restaurants by moving to one of our equity businesses. So in 2009, I moved to the Pizza Hut US business working in Strategy and Business Analysis. This was a great opportunity work closely with our franchise partners to profitably grow the Pizza Hut US business. After four exciting years that saw promotions such as $10 Any and the Big Dinner Box, I was given the opportunity to move to Singapore as the CFO of the Asia Franchise business covering all three brands. About a year later, we completed the brand split exercise and I once again became dedicated to Pizza Hut as the CFO and head of Supply Chain for Asia.
Did you always know that you wanted to work internationally?
I grew up in Miami, Florida, which is a very diverse and international city. Many of my friends growing up were from all over South and Central America, and so I grew up being very open to the idea of living overseas. In addition, I was always intrigued by the enormous growth opportunities that we had in emerging markets such as Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam. Most importantly, my wife has always been interested in living overseas as she loves to travel and explore exciting and diverse cultures. It is so important to make sure the whole family is up for the experience.
What advice do you have for someone interested in a global career?
It’s ended up being a lot easier than I thought it would be to bring global mobility to my career. In a lot of ways, the decision to go global can be filled with uncertainty. I think there’s a lot of support in talking to others; I reached out to many friends in the company that had moved overseas for a job before making my decision, and made sure I talked to Yum! to see what exactly I was getting into. It has been a great experience for me because I’ve worked with great franchise partners in markets with a great deal of potential.
From a family perspective, it’s been really positive because my kids are getting exposure to cultures on the other side of the world and are learning Mandarin. Last week, I was at an event celebrating the success of our Restaurant General Managers (RGMs)—we had our best of the best RGMs and Area Coaches from Asia (about 300 in all) come and enjoy a week of celebration together in Taiwan. It coincided with my family’s spring break, so we all traveled together and the kids got to explore Taiwan while I was working. This is just one example of the opportunities that are available once you go global.
One of the great things about living in Asia is that it’s so easy to get around and see so many different things that we would have never have encountered had we stayed stateside. I will say, it’s true that this lifestyle is not for everyone; but if you’re open to it, moving globally is a great way to expand your career and enrich your family’s life.
What are your thoughts on working with Yum!, versus within one of the brand companies? What are some advantages to being at each?
When I was at Yum!, it was a great opportunity to get a high level view of the organization. My three years living in Louisville and working for Yum! helped me better understand the organization and determine how best to navigate my career. It was even better once I got to a brand as I had the chance to really see what our business is all about. I was closer to the consumer and started to better understand the important relationship we have with them and how I could better serve their needs.
What’s next for you?
We have about 10 markets for Pizza Hut in Asia, and big plans for each of them. This year, we are really focused on our three strategic pillars: Win on Food and Value, Dominate Digital, and Explosive Growth. While they are all important, the most crucial elements for Asia are winning on value and explosive unit growth. We have a very successful Pizza Hut business in Asia and we’re the number one pizza brand in almost every country. Our vision is to expand our leadership position where we are #1 and to take the #1 position in the couple of countries where we aren’t.