Leadership

'I missed it.' Why Patrick Doyle came back to the restaurant business

The former Domino’s CEO, who returned as executive chairman of Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International in November, said he is “all in” with his new position.
Patrick Doyle-RBI
Patrick Doyle said he missed the restaurant business. He'll oversee plenty of action as executive chairman of Firehouse Subs owner Restaurant Brands International. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Apparently, the restaurant business is not so easy to walk away from. Just ask Patrick Doyle.

“I missed it,” he said in an interview on Wednesday, explaining why he came out of retirement in November to take over as executive chairman of Restaurant Brands International, the owner of Burger King, Popeyes, Tim Hortons and Firehouse Subs.

“It’s so much fun working with these brands, with the franchisees, and figuring out how you make these businesses work,” he said.

Doyle triggered speculation about his next step almost from the moment he announced his planned retirement. His departure announcement in January 2018—he left six months later—coincided with a job opening at Chipotle that would ultimately go to Brian Niccol. The speculation was intense enough that he had to address it, saying he’d planned to take a break and spend time with his daughters.

“Every other theory about what I’m going to do is incorrect,” he said.

But Doyle also left the industry as one of the most accomplished executives in recent history. He guided Domino’s as it recovered from near bankruptcy to become one of the industry’s most enviable brands. A job was likely his, so long as he wanted it. Yet, despite a few potentially lucrative openings, Doyle largely remained on the sidelines.

He eventually got the opportunity to helm Restaurant Brands International.

Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle / Photo courtesy of Restaurant Brands International. 

The Toronto-based company, put together in part to pursue an aggressive growth strategy, was clearly dissatisfied with the results more than eight years after it was created with the combination of Burger King and Tim Hortons. It turned to Doyle. In the process, RBI replaced its CEO, Jose Cil, with 11-year company veteran Josh Kobza, who has held several positions at Restaurant Brands International, most recently its chief operating officer. Cil will remain with RBI for a year as an adviser. 

Restaurant Brands International convinced Doyle to come out of retirement with a unique package. RBI gave him a package of stock and options that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But to earn it, Doyle is tied to the company for five years. And he invested $30 million of his own money into the operator.

“The growth opportunity we have in our brands is why I invested $30 million of my own money on my way in the door and locked it up for five years,” Doyle told investors this week. “So I’m all in.”

But it’s one thing to operate a single-brand company. It’s another altogether to run one that operates four different brands, one of them a global mega concept in Burger King while the others push aggressive growth.

RBI has had some challenges over the years balancing success between its different brands and markets. Tim Hortons struggled in Canada under RBI before the company began a revitalization push and, just as that concept was on even footing, Burger King in the U.S. began having serious sales and profit challenges.

That can be difficult to juggle. But Doyle said it’s important for each of the brands, and the international business, to have autonomy. “What you’re going to see is more autonomy going to the presidents of the businesses,” he said, noting that the company has five presidents, one for each of the brands in the U.S. and Canada, plus a single president of international.

“The way you make this work is by giving them more autonomy and more resources to drive the individual businesses.”

Doyle noted that the company has plenty of strengths that made the decision to come back easy. “What all four businesses have in common is amazing food,” he said. “The Whopper is the best burger in the business. The product that Popeyes has is over the top. You get somebody to eat a Popeyes chicken sandwich, you’re not going to lose as a customer. Firehouse Subs is fantastic. Tim Hortons is legendary.”

That, he said, is a strong foundation. “You start from a base of great food,” Doyle said. “Then you look at the business. There’s one business that is big, Burger King globally, but the other three brands are still relatively small. So you’ve got huge white space to build restaurants around the world.”

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