Hired at 25 – Fired at 35: The Turning Point for the CEO of Dunkin Donuts

Robert Rosenberg (Bob) was 25 years old when his dad asked him to take over the family business. It was 1963. Thirty-five years later the company (Dunkin Donuts) had grown from a 10 million dollar company to a 2 billion dollar company.

But there were bumps along the way.

Robert Rosenberg, CEO of Dunkin Donuts, 1963-1998.

My best learning occurs when I hit one of those bumps in the road. I realize that there's more to learn.

Transformational moment:

“You can learn more – if you can survive it – from a setback than you can from success. Success is a dangerous thing if you have too much of it.”

“My best learning occurs when I hit one of those bumps in the road. I realize that there’s more to learn.”

Bob became CEO at 25 years old. At 35 the board fired him. Ultimately, the board granted him 3 months to demonstrate he had turned things around.

“I had a transformational moment in the midst of all this sadness, and shame, and failure … and began to grow … with some emotional intelligence.”

Bob’s leadership was transformed when he shifted toward humility and away from arrogance as a result of reading “The Best and the Brightest,” by David Halberstam.

Expressions of humility:

  1. Learn to listen to others. Arrogance talks. Humility listens.
  2. Learn to be thoughtful with the board. (I didn’t explore this with Bob.)
  3. Create an advisory council of franchisees. “Where an awful lot of the wisdom of the system existed.”
  4. Visit 100 locations a year to keep in touch with franchisees. (Practiced by the entire senior management team.)
  5. Always take 100% of the responsibility for the well-being of the system. “We decided that we would never blame our followership.”
  6. Own your mistakes. Bob said the board’s action was deserved. “I had lost my way.”
  7. Apologize. “When we apologized to our franchisees and invited them in to fix it, they were more than willing to help.”

What’s different about you? “It’s the openness that there’s a lot more to learn.”

Purchase, “Around the Corner to Around the World: A Dozen Lessons I Learned Running Dunkin Donuts, by Robert Rosenberg.” (Released on 10/13/2020)

What have the bumps taught you about leadership?

Bonus material:

Don’t miss Bob telling his story: https://youtu.be/t_fdkTKp3Bc

The Best and the Brightest (Book)

Strategies for Learning from Failure (HBR)