- Hollis Johnson
During his tenure as CEO of Yum Brands from 1999 to 2015, David Novak turned a PepsiCo spinoff into a global leader in the fast-food industry through brands like Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut.
Today, it has 41,000 restaurants across 125 countries and a market capitalization of about $33 billion.
Novak is retiring this month from his role as Yum’s executive chairman, but he took time to speak with Business Insider about the lessons he’s learned throughout his career.
As he illustrates in his new book, “O Great One!,” he considers recognizing great work at Yum to be the foundation for his success, and he advocates that all leaders follow suit.
While it’s up to managers to recognize their employees, the employees themselves can boost their chances of being recognized by working to become integral to their company from their first day on the job. It’s why he tells all 20-somethings just starting their careers, “When you go into your job, act like you own the place.”
Entitled 22-year-olds aren’t going to win any friends at a company, but Novak isn’t recommending that young employees behave arrogantly. Rather, he recommends they integrate themselves into their companies sooner rather than later.
“Don’t just go in and do your job,” he said. “Think about what your coach ought to be doing, or the CEO ought to be doing. Take as broad a perspective on the company as possible, and always take a company view, not just your job view. And that will demonstrate to other people that you’ve got potential.”
He said that early in his own career, he would seek opportunities to have conversations with his bosses and tell them three things he’d be working on if he were in their place. It was a bold move for a young employee, but he kept it graceful by making them expressions of his own interest in his team’s goals, rather than something patronizing.
Novak said that neophytes needed to understand that the way to get people to teach you is to simply ask them questions, since “everybody likes to talk about what they’ve learned.”
He recommended that new employees “go find the four or five people in the company that you know are really highly respected and go have lunch with them,” and then ask them about their own careers and how they learned to succeed at the company.
“And they’ll take it as a compliment if you seek them out because they’re viewed to be so successful and you’ve heard a lot of good things about them,” he said.
If 20-somethings can be driven and confident yet also respectful and open to input, they’ll become recognized at the company, Novak said. And they shouldn’t worry about feeling aggressive.
“A lot of people think that if you do stuff like that you’re political,” he said. “You’re not political. You’re just wanting to learn. As long as you’re never sacrificing your integrity, don’t worry about anything. Just learn.”