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Peter Tan '83

Peter Tan ’83

Peter Tan ’83 builds new ‘Home of the Whopper’ in Asia-Pacific

By Ed Finkel

“Home of the Whopper” doesn’t translate well into Chinese or Japanese, but apparently the taste of flame-broiled beef translates just fine for the palates of people in those countries and 10 others across Asia.

The leader of this cross-gastronomical exchange, Peter Tan ’83, executive vice president and president of Asia-Pacific for Burger King Corp., fondly recalls his own addiction to flame-broiled beef as a first-year Kellogg student living across from the Burger King on Orrington Avenue in 1981.

“I remember spending a lot of hours visiting that Burger King in between case studies, group meetings and so on,” he says. “It’s really uncanny that, after all these years, I would come full circle and get involved with a brand like Burger King.”

Tan joined Burger King in November 2005 after spending 12 years with McDonald’s Corp., where he rose to CEO of Greater China, responsible for some 75,000 people and 1,250 restaurants. Prior to that, he worked as a vice president at Citibank, which is why he likes to quip that he went from “B to B — banking to burgers.” In addition to the greater geographic territory in his new role, Tan, who is based in Singapore, says the biggest changes have been working with franchisees rather than company-owned stores, and building a brand that had a shaky foothold and anemic growth.

“It really was a very weak brand in most parts of Asia-Pacific,” he says. “The key challenge was to bring confidence back to the franchisees about the strength of the brand. Putting in the right people, followed by a strategic plan that would build us a strong foundation to grow the brand, that was the first call to order.”

Doing so with franchisees provided a different challenge than at McDonald’s, Tan says, because it required more of a partnership dynamic. “The way you lead company-owned [restaurants], it’s easier in the sense that you put in the strategic plan, and you motivate your team to execute that plan,” he says. “Whereas with franchisees, you have to work with them and influence them in a positive way, always thinking win-win.”

Tan, who fundamentally views business success as managing people effectively, hired more experienced personnel into senior level positions, worked to drive “operations excellence” at the restaurant level — everything from a well-groomed crew to a clean, inviting ambience, to a timely Whopper — and focused marketing efforts on the brand’s unique selling proposition: flame grilling.

Burger King has faced a similar challenge to McDonald’s and other fast-food chains in providing healthier alternatives to their traditionally fatty, salty fare — although Tan believes Whoppers can be part of a balanced diet if eaten in moderation.

“The important thing is the level of intake,” he says. “Anything in excess would not be good for you. There is a growing group of consumers that also would like healthier options, such as salads, and fruits and vegetables in their daily diet, and we’re providing that where customers are asking for it.”

Tan credits the Kellogg School for giving him the tools to think strategically and to wisely assess risks and rewards in making decisions. “This education, more than anything, provided me with a high level of confidence,” he says. “Teaching you to be always thinking out of the box, challenging you to come up with better solutions. The case studies and the interactions with professors, the challenging propositions that you put forth, it forced you to keep thinking. You don’t go for the obvious. You always challenge yourself to think and offer a better solution.”

An active Kellogg Alumni Council member who has made both financial and in-kind contributions, such as volunteering as a reunion keynote speaker, Tan received the school’s Schaffner Award in 2004 for his exceptional commitment. He encourages others to follow in his footsteps in advancing the Kellogg mission.

“This so-called Internet age that we live in has created a global village, one that has seen an incredible pace of change,” he says. “I would encourage [alumni] that we should continue to support Kellogg in any way we can. We’ve made this investment in the education at Kellogg. It’s always a smart thing to do, to protect your investment.”

Posted September 2008


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