Joshua Kobza, who will assume the CEO reins at Burger King-parent Restaurant Brands International Inc. on Wednesday, expects to give each of the company’s five divisional leaders more autonomy to run their businesses, he said in a conversation this week.
Kobza and Patrick Doyle, the former Domino’s Pizza CEO who was named chairman of Toronto-based RBI in November, conducted a conversation with stock analysts on Wednesday, outlining their expectations and where they saw opportunities for the parent of Burger King, Tim Hortons, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Firehouse Subs.
“I think we need to empower even further our business unit leaders around the world,” Kobza said in the wide-ranging conversation. “Our business has evolved over the last 10 years, and the fact of the matter is it changed a lot when we went from just one brand. We really had one office with a few hundred people in Miami, and now we have a huge global business that spans multiple brands.”
RBI said Feb. 14, before releasing 2022 earnings, that Kobza, who had been serving as chief operating officer, would succeed José Cil as CEO on March 1.
Kobza has held increasingly senior roles with the company over the last 11 years, including chief financial officer from 2013-2018, chief technology officer and development officer from 2018-2019 and, most recently, chief operating officer.
Throughout his time at RBI, he oversaw strategy, technology, human resources, global procurement, supply chain and international development, and he was integral in the acquisitions of Tim Hortons in 2014, Popeyes in 2017 and Firehouse Subs in 2021.
“As I reflect upon my new role,” Kobza said, “one of the things that I need to do is really empower the business unit leaders around the world to be as autonomous [and] fast-moving as possible and be able to have full ownership of their P&L and their business.”
Kobza said one of his first priorities as CEO “means giving them a bit more autonomy, reducing a bit the amount of centralized groups that support all the businesses and giving those resources back to the brand and just allowing a little bit more autonomy of decision making to the business-unit presidents.”
Kobza said he looked forward to working with Doyle as chairman. “I think there's probably no better setup than that I could have had to be set up for success. I get to work with — and learn from — one of the most experienced and most successful CEOs who's ever worked in in our industry,” said Kobza, who is 36.
Kobza added that both he and Doyle are married to Cuban wives and both have daughters.
“We actually have a little bit in common in our backgrounds too,” Kobza said. “We both worked in finance at the beginning of our careers: Patrick for a couple of years and I did that for three or four years too. But after that we both spent the vast majority of our time working in operating companies and specifically in restaurant companies.”
Kobza said his parents are originally from Michigan and moved to South Florida in about 1980. His father owned a construction business, and his mother’s family operated a car wash.
“Those two businesses were where I got a lot of the lessons that I had growing up, in shaping lot of how I think about businesses — small businesses, big businesses or franchise businesses — around the world,” he said.
Amid emptying 55-gallon drums of trash and mixing stucco for his dad’s construction company as a youth, Kobza said one of his favorite things was going to Burger King and getting a double cheeseburger and Hershey sundae pie. That Burger King unit on Airport Road was recently scraped and reopened, he said.
Family-business lessons that stuck with him, Kobza added, were that “we always were crazy about products and service in the customer relationships. That was the lifeblood of the business. I think that applies to pretty much every business, and it is one of the main lessons that I learned,” he said.
Another lesson, he added, was the value of long-term, loyal employees. “It's really clear to me that when you have people who are around for a long time — who really care about the business — they put the love back into the business and your customers can tell too,” Kobza said.
RBI’s acquisitions have altered its approach to investments, he said. When the company owned solely Burger King, it was more focused on costs.
“I spent most of the last five-plus years focused on some of the biggest investments that we've made to drive growth,” Kobza said. One area is international growth, he noted.
“I spent a lot of years on the board of Burger King in Brazil, watching that business grow into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the country,” he said. “And I worked with BK France essentially from the day we started until just a year or two ago, and we built that business from nothing — it didn't exist 10 years ago — into what is now the largest business in our whole international market around the world, doing over $1.6 billion in systemwide sales.”
Kobza said he also spent a lot of time on the $400 million “Reclaim the Flame” program for Burger King, which was announced in September and is a two-year platform focused on advertising, digital platforms, technology, remodels and relocations to spur franchise growth in the United States,
“This is something that Tom Curtis [president of Burger King U.S. and Canada] and his team really drove,” Kobza said, “but I was very involved with them in figuring out what were the right priorities, how to sequence them, how much money we should put behind it and making sure that we had all the stakeholders and the board behind us to make that huge investment.”
Kobza’s technology background also fits into RBI’s future, he said.
“We started a few years ago with a really small technology effort,” Kobza recalled. “We had about 30 people just working on corporate IT, and basically everything else was outsourced. We've now built our digital teams. We've built up a lot of our restaurant technology teams, and we started to do more internal software engineering.
“I recognize that we definitely have not gone all the way,” he continued. “We've had a lot of bumps, and it's a big, long and hard project, but I think we're making progress. … The investments we're making today, they're going to bear fruit years and years from now.”
At the end of 2022, RBI had 30,722 restaurants in more than 100 countries, including 19,789 Burger Kings, 5,600 Tim Hortons, 4,091 Popeyes and 1,242 Firehouse Subs.
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