Arby’s Moddelmog cautious in discussing possible sale

By Maria Saporta

It could not have been a better night or a worse night to have Hala Moddelmog as a keynote speaker.

On Thursday morning, the news broke that Atlanta-based Wendy’s/Arby’s Group was willing to sell its Arby’s brand. The company announced that it had hired USB Investment Bank to investigate the options for Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc., including a possible sale of the brand.

Moddelmog, president of Arby’s, had agreed weeks if not months ago to speak at the Jan. 20th meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth-Atlanta at Villa Christina. At that time, she had no idea her talk would coincide on the same day as the Arby’s news.

So would ACG — an association of deal-makers — get an inside look at what was at play at Arby’s? Not quite.

“I really can’t say anything tonight,” Moddelmog told the group right up front, adding that she wouldn’t be able to take questions. “It is a little big ironic that this is the date I’m here. We did announce today the potential sale of the Arby’s brand.”

Because she couldn’t talk about what was at play, Moddelmog said that her one motivation Thursday night is to make you eat Arby’s. She then introduced a video that showed Arby’s branding strategy was to offer fast food that can be fresh and good for you.

Moddelmog also was able to report previously published numbers: Arby’s has 3,693 restaurants making about $3 billion in sales. About 70 percent of its restaurants are franchise-owned.

“We are very happy to report that comp sales for the fourth quarter were up 3 percent from the year before,” Moddelmog said. “The turnaround continues.”

The fast food restaurant chain is introducing a platform of angus beef sandwiches, and has a “heightened consumer focus.”

At the end of her timely, but unenlightening talk, Moddelmog did take one question. Could she talk about the difference of being the executive for a non-profit organization versus running a for-profit company.

Before joining Arby’s last May, Moddelmog had served as president and CEO of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer organization for three years and four months.

Up to that point, Hoddelmog had spent her whole career in the private sector. In 1995 she was appointed as president of Church’s Chicken, a division of Atlanta-based AFC Enterprises. After leaving Church’s, Moddelmog founded Catalytic Ventures, an Atlanta-based private equity firm.

Moddelmog, a breast cancer survivor, said that working for Komen was an eye-opener.

“It’s the hardest job I ever had,” she said. “Raising money is not easy. The emotion that comes with the disease is not easy either. There were some people who didn’t make it.”

From a business standpoint, Moddelmog said running a non-profit “really wasn’t that different” than running a for-profit company. There’s a similar focus on the bottom line, and it’s important in both worlds to spend the money efficiently.

“You evaluate your outcomes, and it’s not about lining your pockets. It’s about the lives saved,” she said. “Don’t every think that running a non-profit is an easy thing.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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