James Fripp: The Most Interesting Man Under the Red Roof

By Chris Finley, CSR and Internal Brand Experience

Sometimes in life, you meet people who are extremely warm, authentic, and charismatic. James Fripp, Senior Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, is one of those guys. Although James and I have interacted numerous times, it was at the 25th anniversary party for Pizza Hut veteran Jen Weber that I discovered more about his journey. After chatting with James, I thought it would be a great idea to sit down with him for more details about his life and career.

C: James, it’s a pleasure and welcome. So tell me, how did your career start at Yum! Brands?

J: The year was 1980. I started at a Taco Bell [Pizza Hut’s sister brand] in Nebraska when I was 17. My sister was working there and that was my in. At the time I just needed a job to fulfill my classroom requirements through DECA (a vocational program). My first job consisted of picking up waste outside the restaurant and then coming in to run the cash register on the weekends.

C: You’ve had plenty of roles while at a Yum!. What did the evolution look like for you after starting at Taco Bell?

J: After my first job at Taco Bell, I moved on to the Shift Manager role. Honestly, I had no intentions of staying too long and my goal was to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the Air Force, but unfortunately due to medical reasons I was unable to join. My Restaurant General Manager (RGM) saw potential in me and urged me to take on more leadership in the form of Assistant Manager. In the fall of ’81 I started college, with the goal of pursuing a degree in clinical psychology. Unfortunately, my professor committed suicide and it swayed my life. I decided to no longer pursue psychology. Eventually one thing led to another and I became RGM of a Taco Bell restaurant.

From there, I became a “firefighter”, meaning I would visit restaurants and fix any issues that existed. My role evolved over time to be more of training and development roles for other RGMs in the district. It was a personal commitment of mine to find talent that I believed would drive the business forward. That’s when I really started to enjoy Human Resources, specifically talent acquisition. A position was actually created for me in that role and my career blossomed from there; I eventually began overseeing Field HR for all Taco Bell restaurants in the US. Then in 2011, I transitioned to the corporate office to take on the Global Diversity role at Yum!.

C: Did your outlook on a career at Yum! shift as time passed? If yes, how so?

J: My mindset transitioned from thinking of Taco Bell and Yum! as a job to fulfill class requirements to then having money to pay for things and later to taking on leadership. As I grew in the company, I developed and learned what leadership was. I realized how much of an impact I was making locally, and decided wow, I can do this on a larger scale. Now I’m Senior Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, and it’s much more than a job or about collecting a paycheck. It’s about passion and doing what is right with a global influence, both from a business and social perspective.

C: As you know, I’m big into sustainability and environment (#greenteam). Sustainability is much more holistic than just helping the environment. What does people sustainability mean to you?

J: People sustainability translates to stability. It helps drive innovation and forward thinking. People sustainability is also about history. If everyone is new, there is no historical data. Having historical data can prevent making the same mistake twice.

Most recently I’ve worked on rolling out Pizza Hut’s new flagship education program, Life Unboxed EDU, which will support people sustainability within our company. Pizza Hut is partnering with Excelsior College, a fully accredited, private, non-profit college to help break down some barriers between our employees and education. We offer a 45% tuition discount for employees and their families and count certain restaurant training courses as college credit. I’m very excited to see how Life Unboxed EDU will transform lives in the future.

C: You have quite the book collection. Any favorites?

J: I enjoy a good read, but my favorite is It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for. My biggest takeaway from this book is authenticity is the key. As a leader, if I know someone is authentic and drives culture, I am much more likely to support them as a result. It’s not about what you do while people are watching, it’s what you do when no one is watching.

C: Mr. Fripp, to date you’ve had an impressive journey. What is next?

J: I am committed to helping our organization mature in the D&I (diversity and inclusion) space, while also supporting the growth of our leadership from a broader HR perspective. It’s crucial to have a well-rounded, diverse talent in our office and restaurants. This is a mission for me, not only a job. Our world is becoming more diverse every day and it’s absolutely critical to stay ahead of the curve IF we want to remain relevant, innovative and, ultimately SUCCESSFUL!

After an insightful meeting with James (scheduled for 30 minutes but nearly went three times as long) I left wiser than I came. If I had to pick one quote James said to summarize our meeting it would be “Tell me I can’t, and I will”. Always looking for an opportunity to help those around him grow, he also let me borrow the book It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for. James’ story is just one amazing display of progression and sustainability in the Yum! family and I look forward to what lies ahead for him.

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