'What's Christina Aguilera's favorite color?' CJ biz reporter interviews Yum! CEO David Novak, but forgets to ask about business
We very much would like to get into the room with David Novak, chairman and CEO at Louisville’s second-largest company, Yum! Brands.
Clearly, Yum! Brands media handlers Amy Sherwood and Virginia Ferguson aren’t going to oblige a start-up Internet-only news service. (Yum, for all its global girth, is a digital laggard when compared to Papa John’s and other competitors.)
They did invite in intrepid Courier-Journal reporter Chris Otts, who proceeded to have an Obama debate moment in “YUM! Brands CEO looks back on growth”, forgetting why he was there. (Though we’re guessing Novak’s handlers had a long, long list of issues and topics Otts had to agree NOT to broach.)
Whatever the reason, a chance to talk to one of the most powerful corporate leaders in America turned into a chat about the relative merits of Chistina Aguilera, Yum! Brands’ “ambassador against hunger.”
Think about it: Novak has transformed Yum! from a parochial fast-food chain – bought by a soft drink and chips company as an afterthought – into a global giant, the most successful United States-based consumer company doing business in China!
Colonel Sanders may be the face of the company, but Yum! Brands now has very low-profile, somewhat mysterious ethnic Chinese businessmen running the largest parts of the conglomerate, a global corporation that now breaks out its China revenue in its quarterly earnings reports!
What does Otts want to talk about? The George McGovern Leadership Award. (Is there really even such an award? George McGovern? Get out ….)
Worse, Otts seems to be under the impression that Yum! actually has all its headquarters jobs in Louisville, Kentucky:
Asked whether the company’s sprawling footprint might cause Yum to place prized headquarters jobs outside of Louisville, Novak said, “There’s always lots of speculation on this, but we are focused on being here in Louisville.” He added that he can’t imagine taking Kentucky Fried Chicken out of Kentucky.
There’s not a hell of a lot of speculation to it.
Taiwan-born Jingshyh “Sam” Su, chairman and CEO of the China Division and a leading contender to replace Novak, isn’t in Louisville. Neither is the president of Taco Bell, the domestic Yum! Brands money pump, nor the president of Pizza Hut. The only thing that makes Louisville the Yum! Brands headquarters is that Novak is here part of the time. But even that is changing, with his spending more of his time at his Florida home.
Insiders and former Yum! Brands executives say it’s no secret Novak, 59, wants to exit due to matters that have never been made public, and due to the very public harassment by PETA.
Back in May, former CFO Rick Carucci took over the president position, with Novak remaining as chairman and CEO. The presidents of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut in the U.S. and corporate finance report to Carucci. The CEOs of China and India and YRI – all international markets except for China – report to Novak.
If we ever get the chance, here’s what we’d ask David Novak:
• Who do you see as your successor, and will Yum! Brands’ expansion in the developing world play a part in that decision?
• Domestic same store sales were up 7 percent in your Q2 2012 earnings report. What will you do to keep that momentum, a momentum that comes after a decade of extremely soft same-store domestic sales?
• Taco Bell has rolled out a dizzying array of new menu items during 2012. What’s worked? What hasn’t worked?
• The one tantalzing morsel from the CJ interview was Novak’s complaint that Louisville has no direct flights. So, does that mean Yum! Brands ends up in a port of entry city such as Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta?
• What if China has a severe recession? Yum! Brands has about 4,000 KFC stores in China. 24/7 Wallstreet recently ran a post, “Grim Future for Walmart, McDonald’s, Others in China,” questioning if that China exposure is too great, now? Is it?
As pro-business, pro-growth proponents of a larger Louisville, we appreciate Yum! Brands’ global achievements and its contributions to this city. Though the latter are certainly subdued compared to Brown-Forman and Humana.
What is most puzzling is the complete lack of interest in business at the CJ under Gannett, which seems to be forever focused on West End shootings and Metro Council corruption at the expense of all other topics.