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I spent five years at Forbes writing about business and leadership, attracting nearly one million unique visitors to Forbes.com each month. While here, I assistant edited the annual World’s 100 Most Powerful Women package and helped launch and grow ForbesWoman.com. I've appeared on CBS, CNBC, MSNBC and E Entertainment and speak often at conferences and events on women's leadership topics. I graduated summa cum laude from New York University with degrees in journalism and sociology and was honored with a best in business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) in 2012. My work has appeared in Businessweek, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Aesthete and Acura Style. I live in New York City with my husband and can be found on Twitter @Jenna_Goudreau, Facebook, and Google+.

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Leadership 15,984 views

The Hiring Secret Behind Arby's Turnaround Success

When Hala Moddelmog took over 48-year-old sandwich chain Arby’s in 2010, sales had been falling for years, profits were down and the then-parent company Wendy’s/Arby’s Group posted a $4.3 million loss. However, in the last three years, she’s led an aggressive turnaround plan that’s starting to pay off. Arby’s has had nine consecutive quarters of same-store sales increases and year-over-year profit growth of nearly 85%.

How did she do it? She sold 93 of Arby’s 3,500 franchise units, improved in-store operations, launched a new ad campaign to reposition the brand and quadrupled the number of products in development, with 12 new menu items expected this year. Most importantly, she brought in a new leadership team to transform the iconic brand. She believes the secret to great leadership is hiring people who are smarter, faster and fundamentally different from her.

Moddelmog sat down with me to discuss her approach to leadership and Arby’s recent success.

Jenna Goudreau: Since you started at Arby’s in 2010, you’ve set the company back on a path to growth. How did you turn it around?

Hala Moddelmog: We’ve had a great deal of success in the last couple of years. We just finished our ninth quarter of comp sales increases, and during many of those quarters we were outpacing the whole QSR [quick service restaurant] industry. We had come off about four years of negative sales before that. The brand was ready for a turnaround. We have done several things: New product introductions, a new ad campaign and brand repositioning.

The most important thing we’ve done during this turnaround is to hire an incredible leadership team. My philosophy is to hire people who smarter than I am. A lot of people say that, but few actually do it. I also try to hire people who are different from me.

Studies show that one of the reasons we see fewer women in leadership positions is that male leaders tend to hire people like them—other men. Is that a larger issue for the business community?

I absolutely think it’s a failure of modern business that people hire people who are exactly like them. You really don’t need another you. You don’t need repetition after repetition. There’s still an awful lot of that going on. The Catalyst numbers show that companies with more women in the c-suite and on their boards outperform the S&P. There’s plenty of data to support diversity. And diversity can mean all sorts of things: gender, ethnicity or even socio-economic background. You may have a very different view and way of looking at a low-income consumer in a way that others couldn’t.

What are some of the differences you look for?

I’m an extrovert and a lot of people in leadership positions are. I’ve learned to pay attention to the introverts and make sure their voices get heard. Sometimes they’re the smartest people in the room, but they’re not playing that role of look at me I’m the smartest. Also, sometimes the introverts need to go away from a meeting and take some time to percolate on an idea, and then they can come back with something that truly has a big impact.

What was the light bulb moment for you?

When I was president and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure Susan G. Komen for the Cure, there was a very different group of people. Beyond the standard marketing and finance people, there were also many scientists, PhDs and MDs who had a very different management and interactive style. What they brought to the equation was pretty phenomenal. That’s where I really learned to stop and take in and give those people time to come forth with their ideas.

Are there other personality types you look for to round out your leadership team?

I look for people who think differently in the way they analyze situations. Some people are much more linear, which can be really positive especially in operations and IT and systems. However, my background is marketing, and so I am more attracted to people who think in a holistic, not-so linear fashion. Many times I might be ready to jump from A to F, and then there will be people who say let’s lay out the steps in between. There’s a lot of value to that. I have to be careful to make sure I’m hiring them.

Has that mix of thinking and personality difference contributed to Arby’s recent success?

Not only are we moving the brand forward through marketing-driven things, we also drove the brand through better operations. That comes back to making sure you’ve got that linear thinking. We’ve improved our speed of service. We’ve improved the temperature of our curly fries. That may not sound like much, but when someone walks in and wants hot curly fries—they better be hot. We also improved our order accuracy. We had what sounded like great accuracy of 98%. But when our operations guy, who is very analytical, sat down and did the math that was a lot of customers leaving our 3,500 restaurants everyday with a potentially inaccurate order. The way I see my job is to understand all four personality quadrants and bring those together with our executive team and take the time to really listen to them all.

It sounds great in theory. What does it look like in practice?

Frankly, I do have to work at hiring people who are different from me. Because you end up enjoying people who are like you, who you can have easy conversations with. As you go through this a few times, you learn.

What is the most important thing you look for in a job candidate?

At the c-level, I look for a demonstration that in their careers they have been highly engaged and focused on winning. That they are driven by building a legacy, something that will last. That’s so important in the Arby’s case because we’re an iconic, 48-year-old brand, and we’re looking to expand that brand. I look for people who have a hunger for brand legacy and want to build something.

You’ve led several high-profile companies, from Church’s Chicken to Susan G. Komen to Arby’s. What set you apart?

When I was young, I thought I’d like to run something, but that was about as far as it got. I never sat around thinking about fried chicken or roast beef. I was raised on the Puritan work ethic and valued working hard. I paid for my undergraduate and graduate school by myself. I had a real sense of independence and felt like I needed to prove to myself that I could be successful.

What’s your best advice for young people coming up behind you?

Do the absolute best job you can in the job you’re in. Get results. Be super engaged. Let the people around you, above you and beside you know how engaged you are in building whatever you’re working on. People love brand builders. Then the next promotion or job will take care of itself.

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  • Carmine Gallo Carmine Gallo, Contributor 1 year ago

    It takes courage, confidence, and vision to hire people smarter than you are. Hala truly is an inspiring leadership model!

  • Sam Z Sam Z 1 year ago

    Ms. Moddelmog gave terrific on-the-nose responses to insightful questions. Looking forward to Ms. Moddelmog’s continued success.

  • Intersting take

  • Ms. Goudreau,

    Before you suck up such a big gulp of Arby’s Kool-Aid, you might want to dig a little deeper.

  • Arby’s Manchurian Candidate



  • Better check the facts about Arby’s.

    If you borrow from Arby’s new ad campaign and “Slice up the Truth” about the brand’s performance, industry tracking services show that Arby’s is shrinking in traffic counts, the most important measure of any retail brand’s health. Same Store Sales are also sputtering.

    Furthermore, Arby’s has been closing more restaurants than opening in the past five years having closed about 450 according to annual reports filed when Arby’s was a public company, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group.

    Bankruptcy filings have become frequent news items for Arby’s across the country, too. A few examples:




    Arby’s PR spin about consecutive quarters of sales increases (ginned up with price increases and increases in check average) masks deep and troubling issues. G&A cuts are driving the bottom line, which can only last so long.

    All of which has churned up bubbling concerns among stakeholders under the Arby’s hat according to may industry obersvers,

    CEO puff pieces filled with self-congratulatory braggadocio like this one are becoming all too common in the business press.

    QSR Fact Check Score: D

  • The Fact Checker has it right about Arby’s. Troubled waters inside and out.

    Interesting that the article is on hiring since’s Arby’s has been more about firing. Revolving door at the top and slash n burn in the ranks.

  • I so agree,this was happening in the late 70′s when I worked for them but the best managers were some of the male managers not the women.
    Some of the most experienced made the higher ranks feel threatened.They’d show up when the store manager wasn’t there and off for the day.Fined the most knit picking thing to fire someone over and most were male they let go of.
    Best job I had ever had for back then but got burnt out working back to backs all of the time working under a female manager and I was an assistant that had worked myself up from the beginning.

  • Kim Murphy Kim Murphy 1 year ago

    This is an article that should be shared with all potential franchisees, it will attract those that share Hala’s values and vision. Kudos to her for attracting Jon Luther from dunkin’ brands to her board, he built Dunkin into the iconic brand it is today, he’ll do the same for Arby’s.

  • Before you lay too much praise on Mr. Luther, better check out the book, DUNK’D. It makes the case that Luther led a concerted effort to implement predatory practices on Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees and churn franchise fees.

    A harbinger for Arby’s?

  • More evidence of an out of touch brand and tin-eared leadership.


  • Ms. Moddelmog should bring back one of the best sandwiches we ever sold in the 70′s and that was the Arby’s Swiss.It was on the 6 inch sesame seed bun like the Arby’s Super. 3 0z. of beef,scoop of cole slaw and 2 slices of Swiss Cheese.
    Potato Cakes were baked not fried in the deep fryer then seasoning slat sprinkled on them,so good.Now there just greasy.
    Sold a lot more baked that way.

  • You are definitely old school Arby’s. The sandwich you mention was called the Swiss King…great sandwich. And yes baked Potato Cakes are better.

  • No the sandwich I was noting was sold in 1977 and was called the Arby’s Swiss not the Swiss King.The Swiss King you mentioned had lettuce,tomato,mayo and Swiss cheese sold a lot later.
    The one I mentioned had 30z. of roast beef,scoop of Cole slaw and 2 slices of Swiss cheese.
    I worked their at the time and know first had that Arby’s sold it.When we called out a certain sandwich we were informed to have the name Arby’s first in the sandwich like for instant,”Arby’s Super”!

  • QSR Fact Checker: The Arby’s Swiss was sold before the Arby’s Swiss King and it was introduced in 1978 that is when the Arby’s Swiss was discontinued.
    You need to definitely know the correct facts first before trying to correct someone.

  • mary evans mary evans 1 year ago

    I commend you for all the hard work that you have accomplished to get this company straight but after visiting a store today I wonder about the management. Employees were standing around while the dining room tables were dirty and trash was on the floor. There were no regular drinks only diet or lemonade and no napkins available. My husband worked with a fast food company for 30 years and talked about what he would do to get this place under a good management to where people would come back time and again. Needless to say I do not think that we will be going back.

  • Will J Osborne Will J Osborne 8 months ago

    It was a way better company back when it was RTM (Results Through Motivation) and that is the only way to keep employees learning & happy.

  • Will J Osborne Will J Osborne 8 months ago

    I loved the positive motivation & the goals they always had after being at a construction job where the boss was always telling me I’m too slow and yelling at me & stuff this was one of my favorite jobs. The boss I had before was negative all the time to & tried to motivate by being a jerk and making me mad. So having the extreme opposite of that a boss that was nice & motivated by telling me I was doing a good job and rewarding me when I did well was awesome.