From the bustling hub of New York City, to the romance of Paris and the wonders of Istanbul, travellers can always rely on a friendly face to welcome them into town. It’s the beaming smile of Colonel Sanders, that stoic KFC icon who has been feeding generations of families buckets of chicken infused with 11 secret herbs and spices for more than 70 years.
With some 23,000 outlets in more than 130 countries and a new KFC store estimated to be opened somewhere globally every eight hours, it’s no wonder the Colonel’s chicken is a household comfort. Throughout Asia, there are about 3,500 stores, an impressive number considering the stiff competition in countries where street food has long been a fast-food favourite.
At the helm of Asian operations is Dilip Roussenaly, the COO for KFC, a brand of parent company Yum! Brands Asia which operates other famous chains as well including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and WingStreet.
Dilip was an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company across Paris, London and Munich before being appointed KFC’s Director of Operations in Paris in 2015. To transition from his consulting role, he visited stores, hopping behind the counter to understand the nature of fast-food service. Two years later, he moved to Singapore to become Director of Restaurant Excellence before taking on the COO role last year.
Digitalisation, home deliveries and Yum’s goal to become 98% franchised by the end of last year are just a few of the disruptions that have helped KFC to become one of the leading quick service restaurants in many Asian countries. The CEO Magazine asks Dilip how KFC has impacted Asia and what the future holds.
What regions does KFC Asia cover?
KFC Asia covers East and South-East Asia, with the exception of China and Thailand. I personally focus mostly on Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam, representing a diverse mix of developed and developing markets.
How big is the KFC market in Asia?
KFC is the leading QSR brand in many Asian countries. Our largest footprint across East and South-East Asia is currently in Japan, followed by Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia alone has the fourth largest population in the world, so that tells you where growth will emerge.
What is your responsibility as COO for KFC Asia?
I see my role as a growth catalyst. I work to build solid foundations, ensuring a consistent culture and supporting our franchisees in delivering a distinctive customer experience on a daily basis. But really, the key aspect of my role is to set the vision and make change happen fast.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Coming from consulting, my biggest challenge has been to understand our restaurant staff’s state of mind, and how complex it is to run a restaurant. I started the job in France by spending a few weeks in stores to experience it myself; serving customers side by side with team members. I came to realise that every decision we make has to be looked at early through the lens of our front line. I am now very intentional about it and I visit restaurants across Asia multiple times per month.
What difference have you made since taking on the role as Operations Director in France in 2016?
My agenda has pretty much been focused on developing home delivery. In France, I established this concept from scratch by partnering with aggregators and third-party logistics. At that time, KFC was the first QSR brand in France to move into the delivery space. This experience has been invaluable for what we are now doing in Asia.
How big is the home delivery market in Asia now?
Home deliveries represent a market of US$100 billion in Asia–Pacific, a double-digit growth. KFC embraced home delivery about a decade ago, first offline then online. Customers value ease, and digital has brought convenience to a whole new level. In today’s world where aggregators are investing massive resources, KFC is becoming easier to access.
You joined Yum! in Paris. How do KFC products differ in Asia from menus offered in France?
France is pretty much a burger business, while here in Asia, customers prefer pieces of chicken. That makes for a rather different menu, even though our signature items are available everywhere.
When KFC was launched by Colonel Sanders in 1952, it had little competition. How does KFC compete today?
KFC aspires to be a RED brand: short for relevant, easy and distinctive. This is how we think we can generate more growth.
What about training staff? How important is that?
Training staff is key to ensuring safety and consistency. Our team members are mostly millennials; hence we constantly innovate in the way we train them. For example, globally we are currently trying Google Glass and voice assistant devices for a more immersive training experience. Now, beyond training, I believe that empowerment and culture are necessary to truly help our team members deal with unexpected situations.
How will KFC change over the next five years?
Delivery and digital are reshaping the way customers engage with KFC. In this context, we are rethinking the role of our stores and what the customer experience should look like. It is hard to say where we will be in five years, given how fast the industry is evolving. However, one sure thing is that you will see more KFCs around the corner, and access to the brand will continue to become easier.
Are consumers getting the newer, healthier message about KFC food?
We are doing a lot on food credentials. Our chicken is whole chicken meat freshly breaded in-store. That hasn’t changed, and we are willing to get the message across more. It is also important to mention what we are doing on sustainability, the most notable aspect being the 2018 launch of no-straw initiatives by our franchisees in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Will we ever know the 11 secret herbs and spices?
The 11 herbs and spices recipe is the most guarded secret of the brand! I don’t know what they are myself. Our customers love the KFC taste, and isn’t the secret part of the magic?
What is your leadership style?
My preferred style is to leave my team as much scope and autonomy as they can absorb, be supportive when they need me and recognise achievements. To me, this is the most effective way to develop people and benefit from the team’s creativity. I lead with enthusiasm and my aim is to inspire others, which starts by being inspired myself.
And your go-to piece of advice?
Take care of your own career, and be bold.
Your background is in science. How did you go from that to becoming COO of KFC?
I have always been passionate about science, especially quantum physics and physics of the universe. Science helps me understand the world we are living in. It taught me structured thinking and that sometimes intuition alone can lead to bad conclusions. I guess it also helps me to better apprehend complexity in organisations: there are a lot of parallels to draw with entropy.
I chose the business world, retail in particular, over science, as it enabled me to have a more immediate impact on society. However, I feel the lines are getting blurred and now science – through technology, data analytics and machine learning – is becoming more embedded in business.
How do you relax outside of work?
I revive myself by spending time outdoors, practising sports, or simply being with family and friends. My three kids are a good source of fun. I used to pilot
a private plane in France, which now translates into piloting a drone in Singapore. I have to confess, Netflix ranks quite high on my list of relaxing activities.
What do you love about Singapore?
When I got off the plane from Paris, I immediately felt at home in Singapore. The list of things I love about Singapore would be too long, but I would like to mention three things: the plethora of food, the unbeatable efficiency of Changi airport, and how green the city is.
What do you love about your job?
What I love about my job is the pace of change. The loop is so short between strategy and action that it is very easy to test and learn. KFC is an iconic brand with exciting growth potential, powered by great people and a unique culture.
While KFC expands its worldwide footprint, and relies on partners such as Griffith Foods and PepsiCo to provide consistency for its customers’ tastebuds, operational procedures must also conform to the company’s strict global standards.
Diversey, a world leader in cleaning and hygiene solutions, provides thousands of KFC restaurants with simple, safe and effective cleaning and hygiene products to help achieve the standards of service KFC customers have learned to expect. Standardised application procedures, easy-to-use and easy-to-train instructions, and onsite and classroom training are also delivered to ensure consistent and effective restaurant cleaning.