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Former Dunkin' Donuts CEO on franchises need for stimulus: 'I wish I could speak to Nancy Pelosi myself'

Robert Rosenberg, Former Dunkin' Donuts CEO, served at the helm of the company for 35 years. In his new book, AROUND THE CORNER TO AROUND THE WORLD: A Dozen Lessons I Learned Running Dunkin’ Donuts, he addressed key lessons he learned while taking his family's regional business to global brand. Rosenberg joins Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss his new book, current stimulus discussions, the restaurant industry, and much more.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, our next guest served as the CEO of Dunkin' Donuts, now named Dunkin' Brands for 35 years. Took over as CEO in 1963, just 13 years after the first restaurant location was founded by his father, William, Bob Rosenberg, former Dunkin' Donuts CEO and author of "Around the Corner to Around the World: A Dozen Lessons I Learned Running Dunkin' Donuts" joins us now.

Bob, good to see you. Your story is one that I've followed and known about for quite some time. Why did you write the book now?

ROBERT ROSENBERG: Well, Brian, 35 years running a business didn't give me a lot of time to write a book. And then after--


ROBERT ROSENBERG: Lucky enough to be an adjunct professor at Babson teaching entrepreneurship. And I served on a number of boards among them, mostly in my industry, Sonic and Domino's among them. And that kept me pretty busy. And now this stage of my life, I had an opportunity to sort of codify all that I had learned in those two prior eras and put them down.

Some people said, you know, that's a lot of time to make a lot of mistakes. I have a lot setbacks. Future generations of leaders may be able to benefit from some of your missteps. And I agreed and took the time and sat down, and I put it all down in a book. Hopefully, it's a-- sort of a buffet of ideas and experiences that will be useful to, whether it's entrepreneurs or large public companies. There's something in there, I think, for everybody.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: There really is. I thought there were some really great takeaways from the book. And certainly, Dunkin' has been a huge part of your life, your family, your father founding it, then you helming it and really helping to have explosive growth under your tenure there at Dunkin'. How did you feel-- or how do you feel sitting back and sort of watching the company grow without you, including changing the name?

I mean, it was Dunkin' Donuts forever, and then they changed it to Dunkin' Brands. Was that the right move?

ROBERT ROSENBERG: Well, first of all, Alexis, let me tell you. I feel extraordinarily proud at what I see, in terms of the ability to reach 5 or 6 million customers every single day and put a skip in their step and a little smile on their face. That's incredibly satisfying. Plus, the franchise opportunities.

As far as the name Dunkin' is concerned, years ago, in 1992, we did a positioning study, and we came to the very same conclusion. The company had just been sold to a large conglomerate in the UK, and I called my boss in the UK, and I said, hey, Tony, we're thinking of just shortening the name to Dunkin' because I think it better describes our move to beverages and to a broader offering.

And he said, look, I just paid $350 million for you, and I bought Mister Donut for you, as you were asked. Please, defer it. So in fact, I did. This current management decided that it was time, I totally agree. I spoke to Dave Hoffmann, the CEO, before he made the move. I totally support it. I think it is a great move, a bigger platform, better expresses what the brand can go to market with in the future.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bob, you know this better than anyone. Dunkin' is a franchise business, and these are, in many respects, small business owners. What are your thoughts on stimulus? It continues to be held up, impacting a lot of small businesses through the country. How detrimental it is to the small business community that there is no stimulus?

ROBERT ROSENBERG: Brian, if I could, I would call Nancy Pelosi myself. Basically, we need it, it's essential. There's going to be a lot of pain as a result of this pandemic. Not so much, in my view, from those systems that were able to pivot to drive-through windows, home delivery, online ordering, understanding how to utilize the social network.

But for a lot of others, and the restaurant industry is [INAUDIBLE]-- the 650,000 eating establishments in the United States, something like 15% to 20% of them, they will close by the end of the pandemic. That puts a million and a half people out of work. They need help, and they need it now.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Bob, you're very intimate with the fast food chain industry, and as you said, have sat on boards for Domino's and Sonic. Who is doing it right during this pandemic? Who has been able to pivot quickly and still be a winner with consumers during this challenging time?

ROBERT ROSENBERG: I am actually astounded at the scale of most of these larger systems that have made the investment of prior years, understood the importance of digitization, which, in my view, is like the third era of the food service industry. And so if you take a look at-- you got-- almost the stock prices will reveal it.

Those chains that were able to pivot well, in my view, will not only survive, and they will see guests counts drop, but average check increase because consumers are showing their willingness to pay a little bit more money for convenience and home delivery and for other things, even curbside pickup is a big important thing. So if you watch, most of these companies have regained the market price and market share that they had enjoyed before.

There are some stories that would-- that astound me. For example, how quickly Chili's pivoted by opening just a wings brand out of the extra space they had in their kitchens that allowed them to create, well, rumored to be $300,000 a year additional sales and a home delivery brand that never existed operating out of the extra space in Chili's. My guess is that those agile, larger players are not only going to, as I said before, not only survive, they're going to thrive when the dust clears because the field is going to be cleared of an awful lot of other businesses that weren't quite so agile.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Bob, I got to ask. Because growing up, I remember those iconic Dunkin' commercials, time to make the donuts, the little mustached guy would come out in those commercials. Was that your brainchild? Because that ad, I feel, sort of lives on.

ROBERT ROSENBERG: It does in a way. We actually had to put it to sleep and retire it back in the 90s. But during those formative years, Michael Vale, who was the Fred the Baker character, was iconic. We won three-- out of the 17-year campaign, we won three Clio's, which is the Academy Award for good commercials.

But now as we switch to beverages, I think the new campaign of America runs on Dunkin' is spot on. I love the new campaign. But Michael Vale served us well when our focus was more on donuts and bakery products. Now that as we've switched to beverage, which actually happened during my era of administration, I think that they capture the whole notion of Americans. Soon, the world will run on Dunkin'. And it's true, they do.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bob, I'm glad you mentioned donuts because I do have a surprise for you here. The new Dunkin' Donuts or Dunkin' Brands ghost pepper donut. It just came out this week, I'm going to give it a taste test in a second. But of the donuts-- what do you think about donuts like this that certainly play to the social media era?

And the donuts that Dunkin' has in store now, do they still taste like when your dad opened a chain?

ROBERT ROSENBERG: Yes, they do. And I haven't tried the new pepper donut.

BRIAN SOZZI: Pretty good.

ROBERT ROSENBERG: But I, you know, there's a wide variety of palates. The fact of the matter is that donuts really do resonate in most families. Most people that I encounter tell me lovingly about their stories of going when they were children with their family in order to go to the Dunkin' Donuts shop and pick their favorite donut. And that kind of warm remembering sort of resonates with them over the years.

And it really thrills me every time I hear that story. Well, Brian, how was the donut?

BRIAN SOZZI: It's actually pretty good, Bob. It's got-- it's got a little heat, it's very Insta pic friendly. Forget to take a picture of it.