Purposeful recognition is something that’s often taken for granted in business, and in day-to-day life. In his recent conversation with Charlie Rymer, see how David Novak, retired chairman and CEO of YUM! Brands, Inc., has championed the concept and helped motivate others to success.
I’m Charlie Rymer, and this is the Charlie Rymer Golf Show powered by PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com!
So I’m thrilled to be joined by one of the most impressive people that I’ve ever had a chance to have a conversation with, David Novak. And David, before I get going with you, I’ve got to get into this bio, because this bio of yours is unbelievable. Born in Texas, and grew up in a series of trailer parks, 23 by my count and that was due to your dad’s job, he was a surveyor for the government. Ended up at the University of Missouri, graduated from there, which was a great call by the admissions office because later you ended up coming back as a philanthropist and donating a considerable sum – over $20 million to start the Novak Leadership Institute within the school of journalism there.
After a long run as CEO and chairman of Yum! Brands – and for our viewers, Yum! Brands I’m very familiar with, because that’s the three major food groups right there. You’ve got Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and my personal favorite, Taco Bell. An author, an amazing speaker, philanthropist as I mentioned, leadership coach. And with that big intro, David, what I want to start out with first … how’s your golf game?
I’ll tell you what, I’m not playing a lot now in terms of the full round of golf, but with the Coronavirus I’m really blessed. A couple of years ago, I put in a great pitching and chipping area with the green. It’s artificial. And so I dedicated myself to working two hours on the short game every day. So I’ve been doing that since April 4th and I came back to Louisville, Kentucky from Florida. So I’m hoping that it really makes my golf game a heck of a lot better. I’m around a three to six handicap depending on how things are going. And like every other golfer, I want to get better. And the short game is my Achilles heel.
I bet all that work will help you. Have you’ve been looking any YouTube videos or reading any about short game, who have you been following to try and get a little better with that short game?
Charlie, I’ve gone to about everybody, but it’s been pretty much in my head. Okay. Because you just have to get confident. But I went to see Dave Stockton a few years back and I was still struggling with my technique. So I got out his book and read it again and just really was diligent about doing what he told me to do, which I never did. And it’s really improved my game a lot, I’m really getting confident and I can’t wait to get out there and really put it to work. But I’ve also worked with James Sieckmann, who’s a tremendous guy on the short game. I also work with Jason Goldsmith, who is the performance coach for Justin Rose. So he’s kind of helped me get over some of the mental hurdles that I’ve had.
But I’m passionate about golf, I really am. And one of the things I always believe, Charlie, is that no matter what business you’re in or no matter what you want to get better at, you can go to all the experts and really learn from them, and I’ve been going to YouTube and getting sort of a review from Dave Stockton, you can get so much content on YouTube. It’s amazing.
Yeah. I agree a hundred percent. I’ve been working on my cooking during the quarantine and my sauce game, I’ve really upped it … And by the way, for our viewers, Dave Stockton and his son Dave Jr. are good friends of mine, both (with a) phenomenal short game. Dave Stockton, two-time PGA champion, his book, I believe it’s called Signature Golf, he really keeps it simple. I love spending time with Dave.
Yeah. His book was called Unconscious Scoring. And he believes as much in the mental game as the technique. And he feels that you can be so much better if you just think better. I think that’s true. I think that’s true in golf. I think it’s true in business. Visualization is such an important thing. When I could visualize success and look at meetings and say this is what I want the outcome to be and then plan for making sure I do the things that would get that outcome, I was always a lot more successful – and I think golf is very much the same way. You’ve got to see that shot. You’ve got to really feel what you’re going to do, and when you do that I think you’re more than halfway there.
Definitely a lot of factors in common with successful business people and successful golfers. And David, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and chat with you face-to-face other than what we’re doing right now. But I feel like when I first met you, you were the keynote speaker at the PGA of America annual meeting out in the Palm Springs area back in 2018. Normally at events like that, I sit in the back and color. It’s just what I do, David. But I’ve got to tell you, you really captured that audience and you captured me, and since then I’ve followed you on Twitter and I feel like I’ve gotten to know you a little bit better.
But the thing that you talked about and it really impressed me, and I use it in a lot of the speaking that I do and I’ll always give you credit … But the recognition culture that you’ve established with your writing and your speaking, about just how powerful recognition within an organization is, has greatly impacted me. Will you tell me a little bit of your concept of recognition?
And you’ve got to include the rubber chicken story about when you were the CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken, because it’s one of my all-time favorite stories.
I always believed in recognizing people. I think that’s because my parents always recognized me. And by the way, Charlie, I loved speaking to the PGA group because I think they make such a big difference in the world and they help so many people get better at what they want to do and just create a great environment. And so I’m really grateful for the PGA pros out there.
But when I was running operations for Pepsi, I would always go out and visit with people on the front line. And one time, Charlie, I was doing this round table, I bought everybody coffee and donuts and I was asking them, what was working in merchandising? And so everybody started raving about this guy named Bob who was sitting right across the table from me, just like you are on this FaceTime interview.
And they say, “Oh Bob taught me this, Bob taught me this, he’s amazing.” And I looked down at the end of the table and he’s crying, and I go, “Bob, why are you crying? Everybody’s heaping all this praise on you.” And he said, “Well, David, I’ve been in this company for 47 years, I’m retiring in two weeks and I didn’t know people felt this way about me.”
And Charlie, that hit me in the gut. I was a leader, I was Chief Operating Officer at that time. And I was really kind of trying to develop my own thoughts about what I would do if I ever had the chance to run a company. And I said, “If I ever have a chance to run a company, and from this day forward in whatever job I am, I’m going to make recognition the single most important thing I do.” Because I don’t want any Bobs in the world.
So sure enough, about a month after that Bob conversation, I got the call from Wayne Calloway, the chairman of PepsiCo who said, “How would you like to be president of KFC?” Well, I went in there and I said, “I’m going to make recognition one of the biggest things that I do. It’s going to be the biggest driver that’s going to show everybody in the company that things are going to change and we’re going to turn the business around.” And we needed to, because the business had been very soft for a long period of time.
So I needed the great recognition award, and I wanted to break through the clutter and have some fun with it. So I found this rubber chicken that you’re talking about. I wish I had one, I’d show it to everybody. So I found this rubber chicken and I started giving these rubber chickens away where I saw people doing the behaviors that I knew would drive results.
And so what I’d do is, I’d number each one of them, I’d write on each one of them and tell that person what you did. Like, “Charlie, you have a great sauce and really, we’re putting it on our chicken, it is fantastic, thank you for really giving this idea to us. It’s really great, it’s going to help our business.” And then I would give you a hundred dollars because you can’t eat a rubber chicken.
Well the fact of the matter was, is the rubber chicken was really what people wanted. The money was nothing. It was just the recognition that what they did really matters. The other thing I did is I took a picture of them, I said, “I’m going to send you a picture, you can throw it in the trash if you want, but I’m going to put your picture in my office because it’s what you do that makes our business tick.”
So my office, Charlie, is the best office in the corporate world. It’s filled from floor to ceiling with pictures (of people) I’ve recognized all around the world. And then people said, “Well, what happens if you run out of wall space?” And I said, “Well, I’ll just put them on the ceiling.” So now when I look up, I see people in my office that I’ve recognized. You know what? It’s such a gratifying thing to do. It shows people that you’re watching, you care about them and what they do really matters. It’s joyful for you, too. Because there is nothing better than the joy of giving to other people. And I think every job has dignity. And when you see somebody doing a good job, you need to tell them.
And that’s just a wonderful way to be a leader, to recognize people and create an organization where people, when they’re asked, we’ll tear a wall down for you.
That sort of gets me to my next point because the concept of leadership is something that I didn’t really appreciate until I got a little bit older. It’s not really taught in schools. It’s not taught very well in organizations, I don’t think. And you’re all about leadership. I go back to the big $20 million-plus gift that you and your wife made to the University of Missouri to create a leadership institute there. Obviously it’s something that’s very important to you. Outside of the rubber chicken, what types of things are you doing to teach leadership?
Well, I started this company called DavidNovakLeadership.com. And it’s a digital training program where we actually offer training for people. Like I have one program called Purposeful Recognition that we’re marketing right now. And it’s $99 and it takes you about three hours to take, but it is more valuable to you than any golf lessons you’d ever take as it relates to business.
And then I have another program that’s more like your MBA in leadership, which takes about 15 hours to take. And it’s essential leadership traits. So I’m having a lot of fun with that. But the thing that I’m really enjoying the most Charlie, is kind of doing what you’re doing right now. I’m doing podcasts with some of the world’s most successful leaders. I’m giving people conversations … that you’ll never find anywhere else. Right after this discussion that we have, Charlie, I’m going to be interviewing Ethan Brown, who is the CEO of Beyond Meat. But I’ve done them with Jamie Dimon, Tom Brady, Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy … all kinds of CEOs from the biggest companies.
And so what I’m really trying to do is get people to have the opportunity to get inside the mind of how a leader really thinks and learn from their experiences. And Charlie, it’s just like you and I, we kind of hooked up just because of who we are, we get to meet a lot of different people. And so I’m really leveraging my contacts and going to the best leaders in the world and doing this podcast series which is absolutely fantastic and it’s picking up speed. But I’m very passionate about doing whatever I can to develop leaders because all the research shows, even at Google, the number one thing that people are looking for, is somebody that can be a good coach.
If you look at what’s going on in the world today, there’s way too much toxic leadership, and 80 percent of people feel like they’re not recognized by their supervisor for what they do. This is really ridiculous. It’s something I want to change. And the fact of the matter is nobody teaches leadership. Very few people really do. Very few schools do. Recognition, which is a skill that we’ve talked about.
I took training in accounting, speaking, human resources, time management. No one had ever taught me how to recognize people. And so that’s why I’m teaching people how to recognize purposefully because if you have five behaviors that you want to have happen on your team and you start recognizing those five behaviors because you know they’re going to get results and they’re already getting you results, you’re going to see more of those behaviors. So simple, but people don’t get it. And people don’t use recognition. And it’s really a huge opportunity. And as you can tell, I’m very passionate.
Yeah. And I’d like to stay in that vein because this is the main reason I wanted to speak with you on my show. You such a positive influence out in the world right now. And based on your experience, the people that you’re dealing with, with your podcast in this environment we’re in right now, with obviously (some) worry out there. And I was actually direct messaging you on Twitter about this and I was letting you know I was worried and I want to quote you, you replied to me and you said, “Worry doesn’t get you far. It’s going to be what it is.” And I started looking at some other places, I found in the Bible a great quote about what we’re going through right now. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So if someone who is watching us right now, they’re a leader, whether it’s an organization or they’re a family leader, what is the best advice you have for them to get through this crisis that we’re all in right now?
I mean, there’s an old Chinese proverb that everybody knows, which is that, “With every crisis there equals an opportunity.” And I’ve really reflected on this and I think the biggest thing that you could do as a leader now is take this time and self-reflect. Really think about who you are today, what your strengths are, what your areas of opportunities are, and then develop a game plan that when you get back at it, you’re going to attack that with vigor and energy and become bigger and better at whatever you do. And I think taking that approach is really phenomenal. Too many times in business you don’t have enough time to think. Right now, most people have more think time than they’ve ever seen.
One of the things that I tweeted was that, I really believe that there’s going to be more innovation come out of this Coronavirus (situation). I think it’s going to explode in this country. Because I think really smart people are having the time to get away from the day-to-day and actually think about the things that can change the world, change their life, change their business, change the lives of other people. And I think innovation will come out of this. And you know what? The really great entrepreneurs, the really great people, the really great leaders, they solve problems for other people. They solve problems. And I think there’s a lot of problem solving going on right now. And so I’m very enthused about the opportunity. But if you’re sitting around mired in the depths of despair, which you can easily get into if you watch any kind of television these days, you’re going to just (hit a) wall and you’re not going to get anywhere.
But I think if you really say, “Hey look, this is going to end sometime. I don’t know when, but I’m going to make the most of this. I’m going to learn everything I can about myself, what I need to get better at. I’m going to spend time with my family. I’m going to just make the most of this.” My wife, unfortunately, she had a diabetic seizure on March 1st. So she’s been coming back cognitively for the last six weeks. We’ve never become closer.
I knew how to save her if there was an emergency, but I didn’t know how to do diabetics. I didn’t know how to give her shots. I didn’t know how to really manage her diabetes. Now I’m really good at this. And you know what? That’s given me security and confidence in the future that’s going to even enhance our relationship.
That’s a small example. I could be sitting there going, “Oh my gosh, this happened.” Or I can say, “Hey look, I can get better at diabetes management so I can help Wendy, who I’ve been married to for 45 years and she’s getting better and we’re going to get better together and we’re moving on.” And plus, I’ve spent time with my grandkids and my daughter and it’s been … I’m blessed because I don’t have to worry about money. I mean, make no mistake, that’s a huge problem for a lot of people. Okay. But even if you do, you can figure out how you can make more.
Always looking to the sunny side of the street. I love your enthusiasm and just how positive you are with conveying that information right there. The other thing I want to get to you about is, leaders aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Leaders learn when they make mistakes. So this takes me back to 1992 and a product you developed when you were at Pepsi, called Crystal Pepsi. What did you learn from the stinker that was Crystal Pepsi?
I learned that execution is everything. You could have a big idea, but if you don’t execute it properly it’s not going to be successful. But Charlie, I went into Pepsi at that point and I was running marketing and sales and I was brought in to really turn the business around, come up with the marketing stuff that would really work. So I sat in my office one day and said, “Why don’t we make a clear Pepsi?” And gosh, all the waters were growing and Clearly Canadian, all these clear products were growing. And so I had the best idea that I’ve ever had in my life. The problem is I didn’t make it taste enough like Pepsi and I called it Crystal Pepsi. And as a result it was like a hula hoop. Everybody tried it, everybody bought it, but nobody re-tried it.
And the thing that I learned is that I should have taken the time to really understand what the issues were with that product and if I would’ve made that product tastes more like Pepsi and made it clear, I think I’d have a brand that would still be around today, would be growing and be flourishing. But I was so hell-bent to leather, to making this happening, getting my idea done. And anybody who had any sort of objections to it, they weren’t as smart as I was. If I just would’ve listened to people, I would have definitely been able to build a great business there. The thing that I really learned, though, is that sometimes people are going to say that it can’t be done and they’ll be saying it can’t be done every step of the way.
I used to think before this that they just didn’t get it. After this I said, “I better make sure if they’re right or not.” And then come to the conclusion that I’ve got the right idea. But really listen to the barriers. Make sure you really can solve them. If they don’t exist, tell people why they don’t exist and move on. But you really need to listen. And I now, whenever I’m thinking, this is the absolute 100 percent thing that we’ve got to go do, I now kind of stop and say, “Hey, remember that Crystal Pepsi.” In fact, I keep one of those Crystal Pepsi bottles around just to remind me of the fact that I need to do that.
Yeah. You sound a little like Phil Mickelson early in his career, who went for everything and then now maybe on occasion he gets a little conservative and listen to the caddy a little bit. But when I hear you tell this story, I think this is why business people and golfers get along so well, because in business and in life and in golf, you’re going to make a double bogey every now and then. It’s what you do on the next hole that really counts. That’s what I hear when you tell me the Crystal Pepsi story.
Absolutely. I think the best leaders fail, but they fail fast. That’s what you need to do in golf. You’re going to hit a bad shot. Fail fast. Okay. I did it. I got that next shot I got to take. What did I learn from the previous shot? Okay. How do I go forward? How do I follow my process and routines that I know that work? And then give it a shot. But fail fast. And I really like that thought.
And you know what? Creativity and innovation never happen without people suspending judgment and creating an environment where it’s okay to take the gamble. Okay to take a risk. Without that environment, you’re never going to get people bringing you stuff that you never thought of.
Well, David Novak, I really appreciate you taking some time with me on our show here this morning. The main takeaway after hearing that is if you’re going to make a double bogey, you might as well do it on number one so you’ve got time to recover, right?
I have to tell you, I have admired you for so many years. I love your insights. I love your spirits, the humor that you bring to it, just like you did right there. That’s what very few people in broadcasting have. How you can quickly pivot to that, bring that point home for the listener. I always enjoy listening to Charlie Rymer.
Well, David, again, I appreciate your time. Thanks for the compliment. And I look forward after all this virus mess is over to getting out and spending some time with you on a golf course somewhere and maybe it will be right here in Myrtle Beach!
Yeah. I’d love to do that. I spend the summer up on Long Island, so there’s some pretty good clubs up there that we can go out and play on some good tracks.
Well, I look forward to it, David. Thank you very much.
Okay, thank you.
Thanks for joining us. I’m Charlie Rymer. We’ll see you next time on the Charlie Rymer Golf Show powered by PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com.