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Leadership

How Patrick Doyle changed Domino’s, and the restaurant industry

Patrick Doyle is stepping down as CEO of Domino’s Pizza at the end of June, effectively ending one of the most successful runs in restaurant industry history.
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Consider these results: Domino’s same-store sales have increased for 28 straight quarters—and those increases in the past few years have never been below 4% and have frequently been above 10%. Domino’s system sales have nearly doubled during Doyle’s tenure, from $3.1 billion in 2009 to $5.9 billion in 2017. The company’s stock, which was trading below $10 a share, is now well above $200.

“Patrick Doyle has led a remarkable transformation of Domino’s Pizza,” says Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. “His impact on the food, the technology, the operations and the international expansion of this brand has been game-changing.

“Without a doubt, he is one of the best restaurant CEOs of our time,” she says. 

To observers, Doyle has helped engineer a turnaround without sacrificing unit operators or making compromises, but instead by aggressively building sales around a simple concept: making ordering as easy as possible.

“Patrick Doyle is the epitome of leading with integrity, intellect, collaboration, curiosity, risk-taking and grace,” says Alice Elliot, CEO of The Elliot Group. “To find someone who has ingratiated these values and results over such a long period of time in one organization is incredibly meaningful in its own right.”

Doyle was a longtime Domino’s executive and the chain’s president when he was tapped to be CEO. At the time, Domino’s had made a couple of key changes that would provide the foundation for its ultimate success. The most well-known of these was the change to its pizza recipe in 2009, marked with a candid marketing campaign admitting the previous product wasn’t very good.

The company released a video of employees, including Doyle, reacting to customer feedback, including, “Domino’s crust tastes like cardboard.”

“You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process to make a better pizza,” Doyle said in a video. “We did the latter.”

At the same time, Domino’s shifted to a single point-of-sale system that it owned and operated. The move was controversial, and some franchisees sued the franchisor, wanting to get their own systems, but lost.

The POS enabled Domino’s to quickly add functionality, helping to drive digital orders—which are generally larger and easier to handle—to nearly two-thirds of all transactions. 

Doyle himself pushed for the chain’s mobile app and online orders to be as easy as possible. In 2013, the company launched Pizza Profiles, a seemingly innocuous feature that allowed consumers to save their favorite pizzas in an online profile. Using those profiles, the company worked to make ordering as easy as one click, and then even no clicks. It added ordering anywhere it could—Ford vehicles, the Apple Watch,  TVs, Amazon’s Alexa app, Twitter and Facebook, among others. Domino’s technological prowess and creativity turned it into a sales-generating machine.

“We are the technology disruptors,” Doyle said in February. “We’re making every effort to keep every advantage we worked so hard to build.”

With booming sales, the company convinced operators to remodel locations into a new Pizza Theater layout designed to encourage in-store order pickup—an area of relative weakness. Many operators agreed, successfully driving sales further. Average unit volumes increased to more than $1 million, from $621,000, during the Doyle era.

And then those franchisees began building. After the chain kept its growth to a relative minimum, adding just 150 locations between 2010 and 2014, expansion took off. Domino’s has added 500 locations since, according to Technomic data.

Even now, after the chain surpassed Pizza Hut and Doyle announced he’d step out, the company is looking to expand its business. It has introduced its “hotspots” program, which allows for delivery to nearly 200,000 parks, sports fields and other outdoor locations. It is also testing the use of voice-activated artificial intelligence, similar to Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, for phone orders.

“I set some goals for myself when I became CEO at the beginning of 2010,” Doyle said in January. “We’ve met those goals. One was to have franchisees in a far better place. Franchisees are doing great. We wanted to be the No. 1 pizza company in the world, and we’ve done that. Check and check.”

It is clear Domino’s has changed consumers’ expectations. Pizza Hut and Papa John’s have worked hard to integrate more technology to keep pace. Even outside the pizza sector, from Outback Steakhouse to McDonald’s, brands have worked to add new ordering capabilities and consumer-facing technologies to drive customer access. It’s no secret they’ve done this while watching Domino’s.

In his eight years as CEO, Patrick Doyle has taken Domino’s to new heights. And he’s taken the restaurant industry along with it. 

See Domino's growth by the numbers.

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