Pete Carlson’s Six Lessons from his 32 Years at Pizza Hut

Pete Carlson, a franchise People Capability Leader based out of Denver, retired last month after 32 years with Pizza Hut. Starting as an Assistant Manager in 1983, he’s grown with the brand, running restaurants in Colorado as a restaurant general manager (RGM), then becoming a Training Leader, Area Coach, Restaurant Inspector, Operations Leader, Franchise Training Consultant, and finally a franchise partner on the Human Resources team. With each successive move, he’s passed on a lot of wisdom and support—and we caught up with Pete during his last week to get a bit of wisdom ourselves. Here are six things we learned about Pete and his time with Pizza Hut.

  1. Even though he started with a business degree, he’s really a teacher.

In fact, Pete’s first job out of school was selling dishwasher grade soap—but he says it wasn’t a great fit: “I was not a salesperson. I loved customer service, but I didn’t like the sales aspect.” This realization came at the same time as Pizza Hut was getting ready to launch Personal Pan Pizza and get into the lunch game. It was a 30% growth year for the Denver market, and Pete’s first year on the job was as an assistant manager for three months, and then an RGM. There, he realized something important about himself. “I’m a teacher at heart. I want to set people up for success and make sure everyone’s trained from the get-go to work well as a team,” he says. Over the ten years he spent managing restaurants, he trained 16 managers; somewhat serendipitously, when he was ready to move on from restaurant life, a position had been created—division training instructor—and he took charge of training in the Denver market. With this position, and every promotion thereafter, Pete got to do what he loved most: train people. “I got to train live in the field, as opposed to the classroom, and really see the impact of my work.”

  1. He has “sauce in his veins.”

For Pete, it was never really a question that his career would be with Pizza Hut. He recalls back in 1997, when David Novak (Yum! Brands’ Executive Chairman and former CEO) took over the brands and launched his infamous “How We Win Together” principles. It elevated the employee experience for Pete. “I have been in love with this company for thirty-something years. It’s been a wonderful place to work,” he explains. Pete talks about the “family-like atmosphere” that defines our brand. “When I have worked like crazy for people, it’s because I am doing it for the individual. Yes, I’m working for the company, but there are so many great people that I’ve worked for in the restaurants, that if someone needs my help, and I’m there.”

  1. This is about Pizza Hut, not Pete’s Hut.

One of Pete’s favorite positions over the years has been as a restaurant inspector, someone who goes to check each restaurant and make sure they are following the brand standards. It can be a tough job—you show up and “it’s like someone pricked a balloon—you see people just deflate when they know it’s report card time.” Nevertheless, one of the benefits of the position is that Pete could build people up after each review. Pete was notorious for leaving the team feeling whole and positive by the end of his visit.

How did he achieve this? It was as simple as reminding people why we are here. “I’d ask people who were having trouble seeing the big picture to take a walk with me. We’d stand outside the restaurant and look up at the roof. I’d ask them to read the name on the building. It said Pizza Hut. Not Bob’s Hut, or Emily’s Hut, but Pizza Hut. There are thousands of restaurants around the globe, and our customers have expectations when they come to Pizza Hut no matter where it is. You have to meet those expectations, and that’s what standards are here for.” That sentiment would always connect with his teams, and was one of the strategies that made Pete successful for 32 years.

  1. Always trust your gut.

Pete recalls he was running his second restaurant, which opened to twice the volume they expected. With high demand, it was hectic within the first six months of opening—and pressure grew as the Rocky Mountain Region’s management team came by for lunch unannounced with about 12 people at the peak of lunch rush. The group was seated, and a server tells him that the kitchen is running behind on cheese Calizzas, and between two tables who just sat down, only one was going to get their order within five minutes. One table was full of customers, and the other was—you guessed it—people from the corporate office, including the Region Vice President and Region Manager.

Pete trusted his gut. “I went over to the table of Pizza Hut folks, and I said, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of pushing your ticket to the back of the line because we’re running behind on our five-minute guarantee.’ If looks could kill, I think the Region Manager would have vaporized me right then and there. Flash forward about a month, and we’re at a manager convention in downtown Denver talking about customer service. The region manager mentioned that episode, and his point in telling that story was that Pete did the right thing. We all work for Pizza Hut and we need to take care of the customer.” Happy customers, happy company.

  1. Customers matter…and so does the restaurant team

No matter what position he’s held with the company, Pete’s internal compass always points back to the restaurants. “I’ve never forgotten where I came from. The most important thing in our business is what happens between the four walls of every one of our thousands of restaurants.” Indeed, Pete’s legacy will be his passion for supporting the restaurants to always provide the best experience to the customer, day in and day out. “

  1. Despite his love for the job, he’s been looking forward to this moment for a long time.

Pete has been thinking about this day for a while. He’s sure to keep busy serving customers, and plans to volunteer to deliver meals to the elderly. More importantly, he’s looking forward to building a home in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, where he purchased some property nine years ago in anticipation of this moment. Sauce will always be in his veins, he says, but he’s looking forward to a change of pace and some fresh air. Thanks, Pete, for all that you’ve done for Pizza Hut!



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