Episode Summary

What do Taco Bell & Auntie Anne’s have in common…? One powerhouse female leader who has a stellar career driving business and performance growth for international multi-unit restaurants.
Meet Heather Leed Neary, the new EVP and General Manager at KBP Investments. KPB is a leading restaurant franchise group that operates many worldwide restaurants, including KFC and Taco Bell. Heather is in charge of the Taco Bell portfolio for KBP Bells.
After serving as the President of Auntie Anne’s for five years, Heather decided it was time for a new challenge. Hear how she moved on gracefully, taking time for herself, before KBP created a new role for her at the company.
In this episode of Restaurants Reinvented, our host Jen talks to Heather about the differences between franchisors and franchisees. We get to hear how she went from being in marketing to holding two positions at once (yes, you read that right!)
If there’s anything she took from that experience, it’s that marketing and operations departments need to understand each other to be able to work together. She encourages marketing and operations teams to find their Sweet Spot, paying close attention to the in-store experience at all times.


🍽 Name: Heather Leed Neary
🍽 What she does: Executive Vice President and General Manager at KBP Investments, a leading restaurant franchise group. She’s in charge of driving business for their KBP Bells which oversees the Taco Bell franchises.
🍽 Company: KBP Investments
🍽 Key Quote: “I am a perpetual optimist, maybe to my detriment in some ways. But I find that it’s easier to be positive about things and to assume good intent versus looking for ways to create negativity.”
🍽 Where to find Heather: LinkedIn
Heather Leed Neary

Key Insights

🌶️ The dynamic between the marketers and the operators is a significant challenge in the restaurant business.
The secret to a successful collaboration between these two departments is to pair them together. They need to understand each other’s side of the business to be able to work together. “Helping both sides of the fence understand what drives the other is what is the key to our success.”
🌶️ Loyalty is really about Smart Marketing.
Setting a goal but then also being vocal about it is the key to success. Heather shares a few practical tips for young women in the industry trying to work their way to executive positions. She says goal setting played an essential role in her business journey. “I remember my first month at Auntie Anne’s; I was sitting down with my boss, who was the CMO at the time. And she said to me, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ And I said, ‘In your seat.’
Looking back, I could have been a little bit more polished in how I answered her question. But she understood the sentiment. And when she left the company in 2008, she recommended me as her replacement.”
🌶️ Find a tribe to help you improve.
“There are things that I need to work on all the time, but I think being willing to continuously improve and continuously learn are strong reasons to continue to grow in your career. Finding mentors is important. Find multiple mentors because each mentor brings something a little bit different to the table based on their own experiences.”

Episode Highlights

Marketers need to understand the operational side of the business and vice versa
When departments understand each other, they inspire each other. Heather says every employee should go through the operations training during their first few weeks in a company.
“One of our key performance metrics was to spend time in stores, and it wasn’t like you had to go work for three weeks in a store while still doing your full-time job, but it was: spend time there listening to what the customers are saying, listen to what the crew members are saying. Listen, and then apply that to what you do in your role, whether you’re in technology or development or real estate or operations or marketing, and put that filter on.
At the end of the day, if our franchisees aren’t happy and if our customers aren’t happy, we don’t have a business.”
Find the Sweet Spots of Pairing Marketing and Operations
“The operators have a very pragmatic approach. The marketers have a very pie in the sky approach and somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot.”
“From my perspective, I learned that there’s this sweet spot, there’s the pie in the sky and there’s the pragmatic approach. And there’s this sweet spot somewhere in the middle. I learned that feedback that we got from the operations team was really great.”
“Being flexible, understanding the reality versus the pie in the sky is a critical piece for those folks coming from the marketing side to the operation side. The operators then want you to translate for them what it means to be a marketer and what we’re trying to accomplish. They begin to offer suggestions they wouldn’t have thought of before. They would say, ‘Hey, I know you’re trying to do this because you want to introduce a new product or a new line of products. Maybe that’s not the right way to do it, but have you thought about trying it this way?’ And so we ended up with some strong programs that maybe wouldn’t have been there if those relationships hadn’t been there.”
The Importance of the In-Store Experience
“One of the first things I’ve tackled is opening up our lobbies again. We’d had the Taco Bell lobby’s closed for the past year. I was training at a store and a consumer came in and it was an elderly gentleman and he said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad to see your lobby open.’ He said, ‘I come here every day, and it was just a part of my routine to come and sit and talk to people as they came in. That made me feel good because I, you don’t realize some people don’t have a lot of other personal interactions at home.’
“Bringing back those small pieces and small nuggets of joy, I think are really important.”
Dynamics between franchisor and franchisee
“I used to hear from my franchisees that what we imagined to be the reality isn’t always the reality in the restaurant business. And we dream up an idea or a new product or a marketing promotion, and it sounds great when we’re sitting in our office, but actual execution at the store level is a different conversation.
I think it’s great for me to have that franchisor experience for 15 years (at Auntie Anne’s)… to be now able to apply that to the franchisee side to help run the business. Also, to understand what the franchisor is thinking and understand how to communicate with them. To make sure that it’s a win for the franchisor and the franchisee. And ultimately, most importantly, the guests that come to our restaurant every day.”
Challenges to tackle after the pandemic
“The one big challenge for us is labor. It’s a common issue across the country. Minimum wage is a concern from a cost perspective, but we also want to make sure that we’re always doing the right thing for our crew members. And just finding people is always going to be a concern… One of the things KBP does a great job of is creating a compelling reason to want to work here, and they create a great story. And we’ve got a lot of great longevity with our crew members. But it’s always something you want to look at.”
Heather adds that innovation and technology are equally important to stay ahead of the curve in this industry. The ultimate goal is to make sure that workers are motivated to come to work every day and that restaurants always deliver great service.
Raising your hand and asking for help is important
”Finding mentors is important, finding multiple mentors because each mentor brings something different to the table based on their own experiences. I probably have ten or twelve people I would consider a mentor to me, who I reach out to on a regular basis. We don’t know everything, and we can’t do everything. So ask for help because nobody’s going to know you’re struggling unless you raise your hand and speak up.”

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