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Metro Business Thought Leadership

Inspire Brands’ Paul Brown Shares Lessons and Innovations at Insights on Leadership Event

Each year, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) hosts the region’s most prominent and innovative business leaders for frank discussions through the Insights on Leadership speaker series, sponsored by Delta Air Lines. 

In February, MAC President and CEO Katie Kirkpatrick sat down with Inspire Brands Co-founder and CEO Paul Brown. Brown serves a multi-brand restaurant company whose portfolio includes nearly 32,000 Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’, Jimmy John’s, Rusty Taco and SONIC Drive-In restaurants worldwide. 

Inspire is supported by more than 650,000 company and franchise team members. Its brands achieved more than $30 billion in global system sales, making Inspire the second largest restaurant company in the U.S. For Brown and his team, this creates unique opportunities and challenges with brand management. 

“It is critical to find the balance of keeping the rich essence of the brand and keeping the culture that goes along with it, particularly in the franchise business,” Brown said. “What we do at the beginning of every acquisition is we go through a process of stepping back and defining the target customer, a clear brand purpose and the values of the brand.”

“We’re very careful with what are the values of Inspire, and what are the values of the particular brand. It is really important to find how we work together as a defined entity and not operate as silos.” 

Inspire Brands announced the new location of a global headquarters in Sandy Springs in 2018, at the same time creating 1,100 jobs for the metro Atlanta region spread out across the following years.  

“Atlanta is a phenomenal place. It’s very easy to attract people to Atlanta, particularly people who want to be in a consumer-oriented business and there are a lot of companies in restaurant/hospitality already,” Brown said. “The main talent we are hiring is in data and technology and there’s just a great source of that talent here in Atlanta.”

In addition to a ready supply of talent, Brown and his team have also been embraced by metro Atlanta’s inclusive innovation ecosystem. The community of innovation inspired the company and it’s leadership to navigate newfound challenges differently through the course of the pandemic. 

“Regarding technology innovation, it accelerated a lot of trends. It is a gamechanger to move this industry into more digital spaces. We’re now over 50 percent digital with Jimmy Johns’ and 45 percent digital with Buffalo Wild Wings,” Brown said. “We’ve also learned how to be agile and flexible – that was a massive operational transformation.”

“During COVID-19, we learned bad management habits. Things were happening all the time, and we were having to make flash decisions and it seemed like everything was changing. That is not how you run an organization like this in the long term. We talked as a team about how we un-learn that and how we move back to best practice management.”

In 2021, Inspire Brands launched the Alliance Kitchen in Atlanta. Featuring food items from across Inspire’s brand portfolio, the kitchen also focuses on innovation in the culinary space and provides other forward-looking benefits to operations.

“With the Alliance innovation kitchens, let’s find a way to get real efficiencies. Let’s find ways to fundamentally share equipment, share labor, share work stations, and it forced a lot of innovation around the design of kitchen equipment and staffing models. The result is 75% less equipment cost and a large reduction in energy consumption,” Brown said.

Brown and his team are optimistic about the trends they are witnessing in the restaurant industry as a whole. Looking ahead:

“I do think we will see more consolidation in this industry. A lot of what we’re focused on is baking in the culture, baking in the systems integration and getting the organization fully up-staffed. We’re going to try hard to hire about 400 people here this year,” Brown said.

“We’re feeling supply chain challenges and staffing challenges. What makes it difficult right now is length of time that these challenges have been going on from the start of the pandemic. There’s a real fatigue out there, particularly on the frontlines. So keeping employees motivated, and knowing that things will eventually get better – that’s a lot of what we’re focused on.”

For more information on Delta Air Lines Insights on Leadership, visit https://www.metroatlantachamber.com/events/featured/insights-on-leadership


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