022: Nigel Runs on Dunkin’ with Nigel Travis – Part 2

Part two with Nigel Travis, former CEO and current executive chairman of Dunkin’ brands.  Nigel loves a challenge.  He got it at Burger King, Blockbuster, Papa John’s and most recently in running Dunkin’ which he wrote a book about; The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback.  His current challenge is owning and running Leyton Orient, a professional soccer team that he grew up rooting for in his native London.       

Full Podcast Transcript

[00:00:10] Recorded live from the Sweet Tea Studios in Wellesley, Massachusetts. You’re listening to the podcast Why I read non-fiction hosted by broadcaster and author of The Perfect Catch and Follow the Dog Home, here’s Kevin Walsh.

[00:00:29] (Kevin) Hello and welcome to the program. This is part two of my conversation with Nigel Travis. He is the author of The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback. He is the chairman of Dunkin’ Brands and Baskin Robbins, and he is the former CEO of the company. Welcome back to the program. You doing all right Nigel? (Nigel)  Yeah. Great.  It’s terrific. Coming back again and talking about things.  (Kevin) Two authors, two golfers, two guys that like to read and everything.

[00:00:58] Writing your book, would you say that’s one of the biggest challenges of your life?

[00:01:03] (Nigel) Well, I never set out to write a book. A lot of people encouraged me to write down my ideas and I kept saying no. And as I got towards the end of my career. In 2015 I was 65,  I’m 69 now.  Eventually, I kind of caved to the pressure. My wife, as the first chapter of the book says, pushed back heavily on the idea. She’s an ex-prosecutor, wonderful lawyer, and a fantastic mother. But she pushed back. And I think the pushback was terrific because it made me think I was going to say, and I was fortunate I found a really good collaborator or ghostwriter. Some people will say the gentleman John Batman, who’s become a good friend, who used to sit in my study with his recorder. He asked me good questions, which is the key, and I just rabbited on. And everyone said, ‘Wow, you know, that really captured what you’re like and how you think and all that. And so we put the book together. I probably only wrote 10 percent of it, but the book I think helped me get all my ideas in one place. I think the ideas have got some merit. You know, I’m not. It’s not really a successful book. I don’t look at it that way. It’s the ideas. And it was interesting last week I got a text from someone saying that Kent County cricket, which probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but cricket’s the second biggest game in the world. The coach of Kent, which is a county and a team, they actually read the book and given it to all the players. So, I mean, to me that’s terrific because they’re all reading it and thinking about it. (Kevin) On the front of the cover is a Dunkin’ cup with the color scheme and everything. (Nigel) Yep.  (Kevin) That is, that was certainly by design, wasn’t it?

[00:03:04] (Nigel) It was.  The publisher pushed for it strongly to help the marketing.  It’s been very successful. And you know, one of the things I would say that my successor, Dave Hoffman’s done really well is taking the brand from where it was to where we are now with an even more successful cup. It’s much more modern, it’s much more innovative. And that’s been a terrific change as we’ve moved from Dunkin’ Donuts to Dunkin’.  But the book cover was a lot about Dunkin’ because Dunkin’ such a great brand, particularly here in the Northeast. And it’s worked very well.

[00:03:39] (Kevin) Have you always, why foods?  You started in a different time. You’ve worked other jobs. But I think we know you best for your time in the food industry or the quick-service industry, as you would call it, Papa John’s, Burger King,

[00:03:52] Now, Dunkin’ Brands, am I leaving anything out? (Nigel) Well, I’d throw Blockbuster in there even though it’s not the food industry because substitute food for videotapes and games and discs and it’s all got the same disciplines: real estate, people, finance and so on.

[00:04:09] So my background is actually, human resources. And then when I was at Burger King, I was the head of Human Resources, having moved from the UK, which was a big transition in 1989. In 91, my boss said he was so involved in the business, you need to and run something. So I was dispatched to Europe and ran Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Burger King. But I liked the industry. I like the fact it’s fast-moving. It’s challenging. You never quite know what’s coming around the corner because there’s always change.

[00:04:39] I mean, a good example at the moment is the whole meat replacement thing. You know, we use at Dunkin’ Beyond Meats there’s also Impossible Meats out there. And a lot of people and I’m one of them, their doctors say you should really focus on plant-based food.

[00:04:55] (Kevin) My wife wanted me to ask you about that, Nigel. How are you with the changing diets of America? People are going gluten-free. People want organic stuff. Does that all influence what you’re trying to do in stores?

[00:05:08] (Nigel) Yes, it does. And Dunkin’, I think, was one of the first to have a let’s call it a light menu. What was always interesting to me is that despite having it there, making it very prominent, very few people actually took us up on it.

[00:05:23] I think things are changing rapidly.

[00:05:26] I think there’s a lot of research about fat, lot of research about plant-based food and you know, we’ve got our version of it on tests in New York.  It’s going very well. Clearly, lots of other brands have got their own version. Burger King being one. So I think this is a big trend. But we do take diet very seriously. We and I was a leader in this push very strongly to have menu labeling introduced across the countries so that consumers could go into a restaurant and see exactly how many calories. I think that’s very important. And I think for younger people, transparency in terms of calories and on the contents of the food they’re eating is vital.

[00:06:11] (Kevin) Nigel Travis, the former CEO of Dunkin’ Brands and the chairman of Dunkin’ Brands, is our guest. He is the author of The Challenged Culture.

[00:06:24] Define for me what the challenge culture is.  It’s kind of, a bit of a pushback, but it’s not so much, it’s more civil dialogue than it is confrontation. Help me out with that.

[00:06:35] (Nigel) Yeah, yeah. I mean, I hate confrontation. It’s not non-stop questioning. It’s not being rude or abusive to people.  It’s thinking about things and finding ways to really capture the ideas and thoughts that others have gotten and embracing it. I mean, one of the things it does make you do as a leader makes you a bit more vulnerable because people are going to push back on your own concepts and your own ideas. And I think I learned that early when I moved in Burger King, as I said a few minutes ago, from H.R. to general management, whether the first thing I said to all my new team is I think I know a lot about HR, but I’m not an expert in marketing or operations or finance.

[00:07:17] You’re going to have to teach me. And I surrounded myself with a consultant who’s a good friend called David Pacman, who is still a very good friend today, and he was a consultant at the time.  I said, ‘David, go around, talk to people and come back and give me the feedback, even if I hate it. Give me the feedback.’ You have to be vulnerable.

[00:07:38] And I think the challenge culture, a simple way to describe it. If you’re in the middle encourages you to challenge upwards obviously the person you challenge has to accept it, challenge down and laterally. So part of that is you being vulnerable yourself.

[00:07:54] (Kevin) There was a tipping point that you wrote about, and it was the introduction of the K Cup, which was Dunkin’ a little bit late to get on board with that?  Because you were using K cups before, but the franchisees, they were worried about it because they thought people would stop going to the stores if you put them in like the grocery stores.  Roche Brothers, for example. How did you bridge the gap?  And what was the end result?

[00:08:18] (Nigel) Okay, so a little bit of the history. When I came to Dunkin’, you’re quite right, at Papa Johns, I’d been a consumer of K-cups. Not Dunkin’ ones.  And then I came, I found the company doing some work on it but it hadn’t really progressed. So an easy win, which I have to say helped us with the IPO, was to put it into all our stores, which would predominantly be franchise stores.

[00:08:39] We then, we didn’t do much for a couple of years, but we always know the board knew and the board pushed me because again, the challenge culture, you have to recognize that the board has a very important role. And we we’ve always had a fantastic board. Dunkin’ be it private equity or public. They pushed us to think more about consumer products.

[00:09:02] K Cup was a natural one.

[00:09:03] As you said, the franchisee saw it as cannibalistic. You know, if we put it in Roche brothers, it would cannibalize their stores. So we spend a lot of time talking to the franchisees. I think the three things which is well documented in the book that did to get it out on the line. The leader of the franchisees, a very good guy called Clayton Turnbull, who funny enough is back leading the franchisees. He and I met 17 times over like a year and a half for breakfast.

[00:09:33] (Kevin) Are you talking business the whole time or, you know, getting a feel? (Nigel) No, no.  We talked about the Patriots. We talk about the Miami Dolphins.

[00:09:40] (Kevin) But you’re building relationships and eventually, you know, it’s going to resolve itself.

[00:09:45] (Nigel) So that was one.  The second thing is we gave them money to go out and do their own research because naturally, they had some skepticism about our research. And then we did the sharing of 50/50, which a lot of people thought I was crazy.

[00:09:58] But, you know, it is better than not getting in any revenue at all. And that helped us build a very successful consumer goods business.

[00:10:08] And it’s growing every year.  (Kevin) 300 million units in the first year. I would say that was great. And for the franchisees who give them 50 percent of the cut. (Nigel) Yep.  (Kevin) They’re going to like that.

[00:10:16] (Nigel) It worked very well. And it’s a win-win. (Kevin) Spread the wealth around.  Share it, right?  (Nigel) I’m out a conversation this afternoon, win-win in anything. Had a conversation this afternoon about someone who’s leaving a company. I think it’s incredibly important that when people leave companies, you should find a way that they win as well. They’d leave with their head held high because it’s how you let people go that sometimes symbolizes how good a company is.

[00:10:45] (Kevin) Nigel Travis is our guest today. He is the author of The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback. Chairman of Dunkin’ Brands and the former CEO of Dunkin’ Brands as well. The weather. How does that influence? Can you look at the weather today and kind of sort of accurately predict what sales are going to be like? (Nigel) I can.

[00:11:04] And you asked me on the golf course.  And I think at the time we played, which is July.  I basically said exactly the temperature that will be good because it balances out hot and cold coffee in the Northeast. It doesn’t mean it works in Alabama, doesn’t mean it works in California. But I think most brands are more driven by the weather than they are willing to accept. People often say, ‘oh, don’t blame it on the weather.’ Well, the weather is very influential and the weather is getting, I think because climate change is getting very turbulent. So the weather is important, particularly in most retail brands.

[00:11:39] (Kevin) I know you’re a big proponent of exercise, you do a lot of walking. Do you do some of your best thinking while you’re walking?

[00:11:46] (Nigel) Oh, yeah. Yeah. When I’m walking, when I’m running, I listen to podcasts funny enough, when I’m running.  I’ll go to the gym twice a week.

[00:11:56] But I think people need to create space to think. And if you can do it by doing something else like exercise, it is great. I mean, I like running but don’t actually enjoy it while I’m doing it. (Kevin) But it gives you mental clarity, doesn’t it?  (Nigel) Yeah exactly. Yeah. And some of my best ideas are when I’m running. The only frustration with that is I sometimes have two or three.  I can’t remember them all. I really need some way of keeping the messages as I go.  (Kevin) Well for me, it’s a purge.

[00:12:27] You’re purging out the bad air, and you’re letting in good air. I just think my day through.  And as much as I listen to podcasts, or sometimes music, I’m starting to just have it silent and then I just let my thoughts fill it, fill my head. And then when it’s time to get after something, I feel much more prepared for it. That’s what works for me.

[00:12:46] (Nigel) That’s an interesting thought, Kevin, because it’s interesting.  (Kevin) Can you do that? Are you good with just total quiet in your head?  (Nigel) For a time, yeah.

[00:12:52] It was interesting that my I Mac blew up.  Mainly because I had it for six years recently. So I went for three weeks without one because I had to order one. So I had a lot more silence. And you’re right. It’s helpful. I mean, I normally work on speeches and a lot of the things I’ve done at home with music in the background. So I am trying to build in more silence. So you thought there is one I’ve had very recently.

[00:13:17] (Kevin) You’re very disciplined and I think you have to be. Now that you’re retired, are you as busy as you were before? Cause I a lot of retired people tell me they’re even busier.

[00:13:28] (Nigel) Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say I’m busier because being a CEO of a public company is very demanding. I say I’m busy but in a good way. I mean, I don’t have to go to the office. I don’t have to think about daily sales. I don’t have to have long franchise meetings. So I’m a four public boards, two private companies. I do some consulting.  I am actually back at Papa John’s helping out. I do speeches. I have a lot of time to do intellectual stimulus. I play a bit more sports. Though you will tell me on a bit more time on my golf game. But the love, or out of all that is I’m running a football club in England, which we try and run very professionally. And that that gives me great delight.

[00:14:13] (Kevin) I want to talk to you about Leyton Orient in in just a minute. But I want to ask you about your childhood, though. You worked for the family company?  (Nigel) Well, in the vacations. Yeah. (Kevin) And what was that like? You were building windscreens or wind blocks?  (Nigel) Wind breaks.  (Kevin) And also a kind of toy has a name.  (Nigel) Jokari.  (Kevin) Jokari. And your father, there was a moment that you wrote about where you were done working and you were relaxing a little bit.  And your dad came by and maybe had a time, there was a little bit of a confrontation. You said, you know, you shouldn’t look like you’re not so busy. And then you said, well, “why the work is done?” But really, the question of why really is a big part of who you are and what the pushback culture is, correct?

[00:15:00] (Nigel) Yeah. My dad was a very successful entrepreneur. We grew up in a family business. My father and I, when we were about eight slept above a load of fireworks, which probably wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. But yeah, when I was about 15, 16, I worked in the vacation. And as you say, I was banging in all these nails and tying bits of rubber and I’d run out. I had nothing else to do. And he came in. I was just sitting there listening to the radio.

[00:15:29] And he said.

[00:15:31] “Why aren’t you working?” So I so I finished and he said, “Well, looks as though you’re working.” And I said, Why? And his answer was because Y is a crooked letter? And I think if I checked if I tracked the challenge culture all the way back, that was a very pivotal point. (Kevin) There was also a pivotal point when your voice finally cracked or broke. (Nigel) Yeah. I mean, most like my son, his voice broke at 13, 14. Mine, I was still going on 16, high 16s it hadn’t broke.  It was very frustrating.  It was demeaning when I answered the phone at my father’s business, ran upstairs, answered it, and then the person at the other end said, ‘Oh, thank you, madam’. I mean, I didn’t go into a shop for a year.  And then finally broke.

[00:16:18] And I wanted to use the voice. And I used it for things like soccer coaching, I was a disc jockey at college.  And then I did mobile disc jockeying for 20 years. That’s why I’m fascinated with all your equipment here. (Kevin) I have good stuff here. So you’re like a techy guy like you recognize the Shure Microphones.  (Nigel) I did.  And the Shure headphones. (Kevin) So we get the good stuff. And you would know because you worked with that stuff. (Nigel) Well, it was interesting. My partner, this was 1969. Yeah, you couldn’t buy a disco unit in London, even though we had very advanced electronics, and I would argue, apart from Detroit, the head of music in the world.  So he would go out, buy a turntable, then another turntable and he put all this stuff together. And his name’s Dave Bradbrook, who’s still a good friend. And we put it together and we’ve had this thing called Corporate Sound. And we did it together for several years, actually retired three times as a deejay.

[00:17:20] (Kevin) Do you have any Beatles stories?

[00:17:23] (Nigel) Yeah. Yeah.

[00:17:25] Well, never met the Beatles. But one story comes to mind that we went to the London Olympics in 2012, which was a great event. And we’d flown in the morning. We went to the opening ceremony and our kids at the time would have been 5 and 7. Paul McCartney was there. He sang and he was fairly close. He was like 40 yards away. But the part of the evening I always remember is the kids look sort of falling off. We’ve got these expensive seats and I said to my wife “what we’re gonna do about the kids?”  She said, ‘Go down and buy the biggest coke you can and give them the coke. They stayed awake.  (Kevin) The sugar and the caffeine got ’em going?

[00:18:17] (Nigel) Exactly. But Paul McCartney was fantastic. And then I was very fortunate to see Paul McCartney in a private concert last year here in Massachusetts.  (Kevin) Was that at the Kraft’s affair.  (Nigel) It was.  (Kevin) At Gillette stadium.  (Nigel) Yeah. (Kevin) Helps to know people doesn’t it?

[00:18:32] Nigel Travis is our guest today, he is the author of The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run on Pushback. Thank you to Nirvana and beautiful Cape Cod. If you’re looking for a great vacation rental getaway, then Nirvana is your place on a beautiful freshwater kettle pond, great for swimming and also great for fishing as well.

[00:18:50] Soccer is your greatest love.  You call it your religion. You grew up in. In London following Leyton Orient, which for those that are not familiar with it. What is it? It’s the neighborhood team. What division is it in?

[00:19:04] (Nigel) Well, okay. So I grew up and I went to school and every kid in England even now identifies with a team. I mean, London’s got 14 professional clubs. So imagine in Boston we’d probably have if this was American football, we’d probably have the equivalent about six. So it’s very competitive. I was first taken by my mom and dad’s builder in 1969, October. So it’s going to be 60 years next month.  Game at home to Sunderland. We drew 1-1 16,000 people. (Kevin) You remember that like it was yesterday? (Nigel) Yeah yeah. Well, anyway. So I started going. I was never necessarily the best fan because I moved around the world so much. I go a few times a year but followed everything. And you know, the emotional rollercoaster of football at the time we were in the second league down. And three years after I became a fan, we went up to the top division the equivalent of the Premier League with Liverpool.  Those were the two clubs that went up.  We came down the next year and then we’ve been all over the place since. So I got closer to the club when I was at Papa Jones then Dunkin’ where I sponsored the club with Papa Johns, Dunkin’, or Basin’ and they came out my pocket so it wasn’t me spending the company’s money. And then in 2014, we were in League One, which should the third level down. We got to the playoff final. We were two up.

[00:20:39] Then they equalized 2-2.  We were leading on penalties and we lost the penalty shootout. And then a week later the club was sold to an Italian who did terrible things right from the start.

[00:20:52] Everything that’s the opposite of what’s in my book. (Kevin) He was more the culture of fear.  (Nigel) Total fear, it was his way or the highway. He even tried to pick the team. We are mega turnovers. I think 13 managers in the first two years and it drove the company’s club to virtual bankruptcy. And eventually we went down not one division, but two divisions actually went out the football league as it’s called which is prestigious to the National League. So that’s a bit like going from the big leagues down to probably Double-A  (Nigel) Double-A.  (Nigel) Yeah. (Kevin) So you kind of rescued the club? (Nigel) We did. We put a consortium together.  (Kevin) And then you changed the culture of it all.  (Nigel) Totally. I mean, we wrote down what we wanted as a culture.

[00:21:37] We wanted to be a fun place. Fans, fully engaged, fans having views. We wanted the players not to be treated just as a group of players. They had to be part of the scene and as something that I think sums it up. You know, if you go and talk to most other football club chairmen, they are proud to be chairmen, that’s their title.

[00:21:57] I banned the word chairman. I’m Nigel. I’m part of this group. (Kevin) You just feel like you’re a fan that grew up? (Nigel) Yeah. And we try and run it professionally. I mean, we have players come here to Wellesley, MA every year, a few of them.  But we’re all in this together and it’s been incredibly successful.

[00:22:15] We’re way ahead of our goals. We got promoted last year back to the Football League. Our tendencies have grown three years running. The fan engagement is off the charts.

[00:22:25] We’ve got three podcasts. Funny enough. It’s fantastic. And you know, the thing that really pleases me is football is like a religion, as you say, in England. It’s very important for every town, every community. (Kevin) It’s a big part of your identity. (Nigel) Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, for many people in England, that’s the most important part of their life. And there’s been a whole series of books written about the tribal nature of football. I feel I’m giving back to the community where I grew up. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve had a great life and been very successful at business. This is part of giving back, but it’s incredibly enjoyable because we’re building a great club.  (Kevin) And it seems like you’re taking some of the values that you had at Dunkin’ and other companies, just a positive culture, a challenge culture and you’ve applied it to football and it’s great fun, isn’t it?

[00:23:18] (Nigel) It is.  But I have to say, Kevin, because, you know, you’re very involved with sports here in Boston. I want to publicly thank the Krafts who are very good friends. They’ve been very helpful to us. The Fenway Group, Sam Kennedy, in particular, the Red Sox, who obviously also have Liverpool.  Liverpool trains our ground when they come to London. We have a great relationship. I can’t thank those people enough because they’ve really reached out and helped us.

[00:23:46] (Kevin) Well, those are some people that have had help along the way and you just keep paying it forward. Nigel, always great to see you. I hope you can come back sometime and maybe I’ll be on the bag. You’ve got to get yourself over to the golf course. That’s the issue. (Nigel) I know.

[00:23:59] (Kevin) I’m there. You’re not there. So find the time. Always great to see you. (Nigel) Thank you. (Kevin) All right. Our guest today has been Nigel Travis, chairman of Dunkin’ Brand’s former CEO of Dunkin’ and the author of The Challenge Culture: Why the Most Successful Organizations Run On Push Back for a link to his book. For more information about everything that we talked about and a transcript, log on to Why I Read Nonfiction dot com. And thank you to Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod.  For Nigel Travis, I’m Kevin Walsh.  We’ll see you again soon.


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