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.
“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:
- Learn to listen to others. Arrogance talks. Humility listens.
- Learn to be thoughtful with the board. (I didn’t explore this with Bob.)
- Create an advisory council of franchisees. “Where an awful lot of the wisdom of the system existed.”
- Visit 100 locations a year to keep in touch with franchisees. (Practiced by the entire senior management team.)
- Always take 100% of the responsibility for the well-being of the system. “We decided that we would never blame our followership.”
- Own your mistakes. Bob said the board’s action was deserved. “I had lost my way.”
- 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?
Don’t miss Bob telling his story: https://youtu.be/t_fdkTKp3Bc
The Best and the Brightest (Book)
Strategies for Learning from Failure (HBR)
This post resonates with me so well. I went through a similar experience a few years ago and when my board told me they wanted a change in leadership, I was just devastated. I had put my heart and soul into the organization and had really turned things around. Culturally, financially, and performance-wise, things were going great. It took me several months of wallowing in self-pity only to realize that I had to take ownership of my predicament. I was too busy celebrating our success (ego), that I did not take the time to see by blindspots. Through humility and a lot of reflection, I grew to understand the importance of communications – especially the most important part which is listening (humility).
I learned a great deal about myself through this experience and am grateful for what I have learned.
Thank you Dan!
Thanks Joseph. I’m so glad you shared your experience. Some lessons seem to be learned during painful experiences.
The seduction of arrogance is it makes us feel like we’re doing the right thing when we are doing the wrong thing….like we are succeeding when we’re failing.
Surely life’s journey is full of ups & downs, how we pick ourselves up after them is the challenge. We often overlook things till someone else points them out. Humbling yes, end of the world no. As humans we have the capabilities to make things turn around, painful at times, yet the facts of leadership. I see everyone has the story, how they survive is the culmination of perseverance, gut wrenching decision making and tough actions at times. The story “Joseph portray” on Leadership is a real eye opener, “sometimes the Rose colored glasses need replaced”.
Thanks Tim. “… end of the world no.” We have to overcome our tendency catastrophize if we are going to move forward.
I totally enjoyed my conversation with Bob. He seems authentic as we talked.
Loved this post. An inspiration to all who lead, whether in a small setting — a couple of people– or in a huge organization such as with Mr. Rosenberg and Dunkin Donuts.
Thanks Mary Ellen. I find it refreshing to see transparency and candor in a leader of success and experience.
Pride commeth before that big fat fall!!
That’s true, Yanelle.
Great guidelines. 1 really resonates with me. I feel like people are trying to make a difference by listening first. After all we have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk.
This franchise has always impressed me. Many years ago I remember sitting at the counter with a friend and noticing the diplomas from Dunkin University on the wall. The owner talked to us about the training and why he chose the franchise. They do good work and they have adapted and made modifications over the years that I think served the customers well. Thanks for the share Mr. Rosenberg.
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Big bumps in the road can sometimes help you see further ahead than you would do otherwise.
Thanks Chloe. That’s a great way to look at it.
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Dan- for some reason the most memorable guidance and feedback I’ve received over the course of my career has come as a result of something that I was ignorant to think was perfect. I recall a one instance specifically that shifted my mindset 12 years ago and I think about it to this day. After hustling to meet a deadline on a memo that would go to our CEO, it was filled with opinion and had a few grammatical errors. I went quickly and didn’t think twice about it; I was the in-house expert. My boss simply made all of the corrections (right or wrong) and passed-along to the CEO. She simply sent me an email back that said, ‘you’re better than this.’ Those four words resonated so hard with me that I think about that email before I send company updates, emails to Sr. Leadership and client conversation. That simple sentence rocked my world; gave me a huge wake-up call and made me a more precise Manager!