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ADay in the Life: Lobbyists

ADay in the Life: Lobbyists

Brian Riendeau, vice president of government and community affairs for Yum! Brands Inc., doesn’t mind working long hours.

The length of his workdays varies, depending on whether he’s traveling or staying near Yum’s Louisville, Ky., headquarters. But he rarely counts his hours, he says, pausing to think a minute before estimating that his average in-town workdays run from about 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

“I love my job because every day is different,” Riendeau says. “I love the political process. I get paid to stay engaged in the political process.”

Riendeau, who has a master’s degree in business administration, has been vice president of government and community affairs for Yum, parent of the KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and A&W brands, for seven years. He says he learned how the political process works at the federal level when he became legislative assistant to Sen. Mitch McDonnell, R-Ky., the current Senate minority leader. He traveled extensively with the senator throughout Asia and was closely involved in preliminary work leading to passage of such key legislation as the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1989 and the Energy Policy Act of 1990.

These days, Riendeau and his two-man government affairs team, Keith Jones and Bill Ehrig, usually work on a half-dozen issues at any given time along with two lobbying firms contracted by Yum.

Minimum-wage increases and tax reform are hot issues on the federal level, Riendeau says, while health care mandates, menu board nutrition labeling proposals, minimum-wage increases and class-action lawsuit reform are leading issues at the state level. Yum employs contract lobbyists in 20 major state capitals to represent Yum on state and municipal issues.

“We prioritize states based on our business exposure in those states and on how active the state legislatures are,” Riendeau says. Yum also belongs to state restaurant and retail associations, and, on a national level, is active in the National Restaurant Association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the International Franchise Association.

On a typical day, Riendeau keeps in touch with many of these associates, especially on national issues. He currently serves as vice chairman of the NCCR and will move up to the chairmanship at the end of this year.

He visits Washington, D.C., three or four times a month for meetings on Capitol Hill with lawmakers’ aides and members of Yum’s lobbyist team. He also meets regularly with trade association representatives to share Yum’s stances on issues.

“We try to become close working partners,” Riendeau says. “The more you know, the more you care.”

Yum has a political action committee, for which Riendeau helps set strategy at the start of each year. Major decisions to be made include how much money to contribute to presidential and congressional candidates.

“Our philosophy is we want to support candidates who understand our business and are willing to listen to us when we have issues,” he says.

At this stage in the long season that precedes the 2008 presidential election, Yum has not decided whom to support.

“There are 19 people in the race right now,” Riendeau says. “We will wait awhile to see how things shake out.”

Business travel has grown much more productive for Riendeau with the advent of the BlackBerry, cell phones and other electronic gear.

“In the old days, you’d go away for three or four days and come back to 500 e-mails,” he says. “This way, you can stay ahead of it. You can stay connected 24-7.”

On days when he’s in Yum’s Louisville headquarters, Riendeau spends a lot of time on the phone with his team, planning strategy. He also leads monthly conference calls with those franchisees who are involved in local lobbying efforts and coaches them.

“They are highly motivated and are good lobbyists,” he says. “Franchisees are getting more involved because added costs come right out of their pockets. It’s important for us to make sure they are engaged.

“Yum is a $24 billion company. It’s entirely different for a three-store KFC franchisee to sit in front of a congressman. That person has a whole lot more influence than I would ever have.”

Since Riendeau works for Yum, he considers the individual restaurant brands his clients. Brand representatives often call his office for help when issues arise in their regions.


AGE: 49EMPLOYER:Yum! Brands Inc.TITLE: vice president of government and community affairsLENGTH OF TENURE: seven yearsCAREER MILESTONES: working for Sen. Mitch McDonnell, R-Ky.; being appointed to current positionPROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS: to increase industry influence with government officialsHOMETOWN: Jacksonville, Fla.PERSONAL: married; one daughterFAVORITE PASTIMES: running, bicycling, hunting and fishing

Pizza Hut in California recently called his office to request assistance in trying to thwart a proposed change by the California Department of Labor in the way employers must reimburse delivery drivers for use of their own vehicles. If the proposed change becomes effective, it would result in higher costs to employers, Riendeau says.

Riendeau and one of his associates went into action by calling the restaurant and retail associations and Yum’s contracted lobbyist in California to get more information. “A public hearing had been scheduled,” he says. “We worked with them to develop written comments and got people to testify.”

Throughout the year, Riendeau oversees sending legislative updates and alerts to franchisees when issues come to a head in their regions. “We let them know when to contact their legislators so they can get their information out to their public officials,” he says.

The second part of Riendeau’s responsibilities, community affairs, involves managing the Yum! Foundation, which supports various charities in Louisville. He meets with local community organizations that request grants from Yum as frequently as two or three times a week.

He recently met with Louisville United Way and Volunteers of America. “We’re trying to get our 1,600 local employees to volunteer in the community,” he says.

When he doesn’t have business lunches scheduled, Riendeau uses lunchtime to work out in Yum’s fitness center, and in his free time, he enjoys the outdoors, which balances his long hours at work.

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