CMO search: Change agents need not apply at Wendy's

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Wendy's International is searching for a new marketing director, but not a new direction.

Exec VP-Marketing Don Calhoon, who is set to retire after 26 years at the fast-feeder, is helping to pick his successor. But he said the company is not in the market for someone to shake things up.

"We are not interested in the 18-month or 24-month wonder to come in and make a bunch of changes," said Mr. Calhoon, who turns 53 this week. "Those folks need not apply. The process works, the strategy is correct, the results are there, and there's no interest in trying to fix something that is not broken."

Nor should the candidates expect to create their own team, he said. "Nobody's coming in here to change ad agencies, the Hispanic agency, or the PR agency, and they're not going to change the marketing organization. That's as simple as I can put it."

Wendy's ads are created by Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson Worldwide, its Hispanic shop is Vidal Partnership and its PR agency is Ketchum Worldwide.

Mr. Calhoon made founder Dave Thomas the face and voice of Wendy's advertising and crafted the strategy in the wake of Mr. Thomas' death in 2002. He said he expects the search to take from six to nine months, and won't leave before he "stands shoulder to shoulder" to introduce his replacement. While Wendy's is not ruling out internal candidates, it hired executive-recruiting firm Russell Reynolds to handle an external search.

carbon-copy conundrum

But some believe the company could have a hard time recruiting top-notch talent if candidates can't put their own mark on the brand.

"There has to be a more compelling proposition, because good talent wants to come into a situation knowing how they are personally going to bring value," said Barbara Pickens, president of Pickens & Co., an executive recruiter for consumer-marketing talent. "It sounds like they're looking for a carbon copy of [Don Calhoon]. How do you go do a search around that?"

The job specs include experience in a three-tier marketing system like retail or consumer products and an understanding of franchise owners or dealers. "I think someone who has competed in a category where they have always been labeled as No. 2 or 3 or 4 and brings a different mind-set to an organization where you think differently, you think aggressively and you maneuver in a different way," said Mr. Calhoon. "That kind of background is very important here."

He added, "The relationship with, in our case, our franchise owners, is so critically important that you do need an individual that understands franchise owners."

While his relatively young age raised questions as to why he's stepping down, the diabetic executive insisted his health is "fine" and that the insulin pump he began using three years ago has changed his life. "I treat it very openly," he said.

"Twenty-six years is a very long time in this industry and I'm at a point where I couldn't be happier with our organization, the end products, our relationships we have with the franchisee community and media world," Mr. Calhoon said.

Wendy's, with sales of $7.4 billion last year, has posted 16 years of positive same-store sales gains. Its market share grew to 6.5% among the top 100 restaurant chains, within a half-point of Burger King Corp., in 2003, according to industry consultant Technomic.

Calhoon on...

His Summer job: "Between high school and college I was a shepherd. I traveled a two-state area showing sheep and literally sleeping in the pens at the fairs. ... It was a great time in life, I promise you."

College degree: Public relations. "I never took a marketing course."

First professional job: Assistant executive director for the Central Ohio chapter of the March of Dimes.

Best professional decision: Reneging on his first job at Wendy's to start its PR function. Instead, he moved into marketing. "It changed my entire career."

Meeting with Dave Thomas: "He would ask you what have you done today to improve the business ... if you couldn't tell him ... he would ask you why you were there."

Putting Dave in commercials? "It was a stop-gap until we found the next advertising idea, and along the way it caught on."

Career highlight: Induction into the Wendy's Hall of Fame in 2001

Career low: When Dave passed away.

Your future book? "If I wrote a book it would be called `Common Sense Branding.' "

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