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The heads of Burger King told U of C students yesterday to have it their way.
At a visit announced to students less than an hour in advance, Burger King CEO Bernardo Hees and CFO Ben Wells spoke at Ida Noyes about the opportunities and the changes they have made since the company was purchased by 3G Capital Group in September for $3.3 billion.
The young professionals—Hees is 41 and Wells is 30—came to campus to recruit both undergraduates and MBA students to their recently-acquired company.
Hees told the approximately 50 students in attendance that spending life searching for a job is the wrong attitude. “The only thing I recommend to you is, don’t look for a job. Don’t worry about finding a job. You’re studying at one of the best universities in the world. Work at finding a product, something that you believe in,” Hees said. “If you look for a job, then it makes no difference [that you came to the U of C]. You need to believe in what you’re doing.”
Hees was also critical of students who went straight into finance or consulting after college in order to bide their time before moving on to the next project. “I have no respect for this kind of decision,” Hees said. “Say you want to be a partner, that is something I have respect for.”
“When I graduated in 1998, 40 percent went into the dot-com industry, 30 percent went into banking and consulting,” said Hees, who went to Brazil to work as a logistics analyst with America Latina Logistica (ALL), a firm that was struggling at the time. “Six years later I was CEO of a seven-billion dollar company, and [my classmates] were looking for jobs.”
The executives encouraged students to focus on mastering the basics. “If you are good, but the fundamentals are bad, then the best you can be is average,” Hees said.
Hees and Wells stressed growth and the infusion of new talent as key success for Burger King. “Who is important? Who is in charge? This country is all about ownership. People think that hiring a CFO of a four billion dollar company who is 30 is either irresponsible or don’t know what he’s doing. Maybe I’m both,” Hees said.
Hees added that the hard work he put into his MBA at the University of Warwick in England was easy because there were few distractions. “The food is terrible and the women are not very attractive [in England]. Here in Chicago the food is good, and you are known for good-looking women,” he said.
Burger King is heavily invested in bolstering their international appeal, and Hees elaborated an international strategy of capturing market share, especially in China and Southeast Asia. Citing a 25 million-person increase in the size of the upper class, Hess said that more Chinese people had started eating beef because it is considered an upper-class good in China.
Burger King has dramatically altered the menu in places where beef was not regularly consumed, such as India, by replacing beef menu options with lamb and emphasizing chicken options, according to Hees.
When Burger King was acquired by 3G in September, Reuter’s reported that Moody’s, a credit rating agency, had given the fast-food giant a corporate family rating of Ba2, the second-highest junk level.
Hees acknowledged the challenges of bringing the fifty-plus year old company back to the level of its competitors. “We bought Burger King for four billion,” Hees said. “McDonald’s is worth 70 billion.”
After a visit to Harvard and MIT earlier in the year, the company is continuing to look for more undergraduate students for their Management Trainee Program. As part of the program, trainees will begin with a four month in-restaurant role. Hees stressed that students of all majors are welcome to apply.
When asked what his favorite item of the Burger King menu was, Hees smiled and said, “The Whopper. I’m a traditional guy.”