Emil Brolick '69, '72: Look to Tennyson for leadership ideas
Taco Bell President and Chief Concept Officer Emil J. Brolick '69 '72, doesn't profess to be a leadership expert, but he has learned that "each of us has the capacity for leadership. Leaders are made – not born – by themselves, more than external circumstances."
Brolick spoke March 16 at the Commerce & Finance Building as part of the College of Business Administration's Alumni Week. "I strongly encourage all of us to continue to be students. Leverage the power of reading and the power of observation in building your own self-education," he says.
"Particularly, observation is a very powerful tool – but we want to observe not only the higher-ups, but also everyone around us."
Brolick adds, "There is a growing body of evidence that great leaders are not necessarily bigger than life, charismatic, or from the famous schools" such as Harvard or Wharton.
This theory is reinforced in one of Brolick's favorite books, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap …and Others Don't by Jim Collins. He particularly identifies with "Level 5 leaders" – those who make their companies great through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. Collins describes them as humble, modest, reserved, gracious, and self-effacing.
Said Brolick, "These are great words to remember as we all seek to develop and refine personal leadership styles and personal brands. This is certainly refreshing and very motivating to me, because these leaders are more like plow horses than they are like show horses. I consider myself more the plow horse variety – I couldn't even fake being the show horse."
Brolick also emphasized The Trinity of Excellence in Leadership, a prose work by the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. Says Brolick, "Probably the only thing Tennyson and I have in common is that he too was a student of leadership." Tennyson's "trinity" – self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control – is Brolick's favorite standard of leadership.
"Self-reverence isn't ego or hubris – it's being comfortable in your own skin." Brolick believes this comfort stems from emulating Level 5 leaders and from setting priorities and living according to them.
"Self-knowledge is often one of the most difficult traits for all of us and certainly it has been for me. It is essential for great leadership because it facilitates self-effacement … it allows you to be serious but not take yourself seriously."
Self-knowledge also contributes to a high degree of emotional intelligence. … And while we've all seen leaders who lack emotional intelligence, we've never seen a truly great leader who lacks emotional intelligence. I feel this is the single most important lesson I've learned in life and in leadership.
The third component, self-control, is "not optional. Lack of self-control leads to poor judgment and bad decisions. If you can't control yourself, you can't control anything.
"Leaders must consistently model behaviors that we want others to have."
Brolick was one of many UDM alumni who returned to campus in March to participate in the College of Business Administration Alumni Week. Other alumni spoke to current UDM students in classes, and mingled at "Fields of Opportunity," a student/alumni networking reception sponsored by DaimlerChrysler, in the Padilla Family Student Lounge in the Commerce & Finance Building.
Emil Brolick has nearly 30 years of experience in product development, marketing and business planning, 20 years of which are in the restaurant industry. Prior to joining Taco Bell's parent company YUM! Brands, Brolick served for 12 years as Senior Vice President of New Product Marketing in Research & Strategic Planning for Wendy's International, Inc.
Brolick is credited as one of the primary architects of Wendy's 1988 turnaround and developed their "superior brand" strategy while launching a series of successful new products. Additionally, he serves as Chairman of the Taco Bell Foundation, which has contributed over $15 million to support the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Brolick received both his B.A. and his M.A. in Economics from the University of Detroit.