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Emil Brolick '69, '72


Wendy's president and CEO has enjoyed long, fulfilling career in the food service industry

by Rackeline Hoff, contributing writer

Recognized as an astute businessman, a leader in the food service industry and a turnaround expert, Emil Brolick ’69, ’72, current president and CEO of The Wendy’s Company, speaks with enthusiasm about the education he received at University of Detroit that prepared him well for his long and successful career.

“When I left my hometown of Grand Haven, I came to U of D to study law. But, thanks to an introductory economics course that I found very intriguing and the support of several outstanding business professors, I went on to earn both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics,” said Brolick. “I had a great relationship with my teachers and credit them with providing me a quality education and helping to instill in me a life-long passion for learning.”

Upon graduation, Brolick began his career in automotive manufacturing, working in the areas of marketing, corporate development, finance and investor relations for the Chrysler Corporation and Copeland Corporation. With his broad business background, he then switched to the food service industry when he joined Ponderosa.

“That was the start of a fabulous career for me. Food service was and still is a very dynamic and exciting business,” said Brolick.

In 1988, he was hired by Wendy’s International, Inc. and served in numerous capacities of increasing responsibility until he was named senior vice president, New Product Marketing, Research and Strategic Planning. Among his many accomplishments was structuring Wendy’s 1988 turnaround, which helped produce 16 consecutive years of same restaurant sales growth.

Brolick speaks fondly of his relationship with the late Dave Thomas, who founded Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio in 1969. He highly respected Thomas and describes him as “a great entrepreneur and a wonderful human being.”       

In 2000, Brolick was lured to Yum! Brands and served in several executive leadership roles including president and chief concept officer of Taco Bell (2000-2006); president of U.S. Brand Building (2006-2008); chief operating officer of Yum! Brands and president of the A&W and Long John Silver’s chains (2008-2011).

After 11 years with Yum! Brands, Brolick decided to retire. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to return to Wendy’s as president and CEO and was tasked with re-establishing the company’s brand identity, creating a clear vision and strategy, and upgrading its image and operations.

“I accepted the offer because I have a strong affinity for the Wendy’s brand and believe the company has a long tradition of quality,” said Brolick. “In addition, I wanted to honor the memory of Dave Thomas by providing the leadership to return Wendy’s to a position of excellence in the competitive quick-service food industry.”

Brolick began restructuring by bringing in a new team of highly qualified business professionals as he implemented his fundamental business philosophy—“Build a team of great people; customer sales and profits will follow.” And, it seems to be working. With a new brand identity “A Cut Above”, the introduction of new products such as Berry Almond Chicken Salad, and a stock price increase of 65 percent in one year, Brolick is leading the 6,500-restaurant chain to new heights.  

Although he devotes much of his time and energy to Wendy’s, Brolick is also actively involved in several community organizations, serving as a trustee of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and chairman emeritus of the Board of Governors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He was previously chairman of the Taco Bell Foundation.

Throughout his charity work, Brolick focuses his support on causes that provide education and assistance to underprivileged children. He and his wife, Maureen, are benefactors of the MIND Research Institute, which is a non-profit organization that uses a unique software program to teach science and math through music.

The Brolicks, who met while both were students—he at U of D and she at Marygrove College—currently live in Columbus, Ohio and are the parents of two grown children and two grandchildren. In his spare time, Brolick enjoys golfing, fitness, cycling, kayaking and spending time with his family at their vacation home in Leland, Mich. on Lake Leelanau.

With warm memories of his days at U of D, Brolick continues to support the University and follows the Titans basketball and lacrosse teams. In 2008 at the Ignatian Circle Dinner, he was presented with UDM’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, an honor which he remembers as “one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”