When Patrick Doyle walks out the doors of Domino’s headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Friday, on his last day as CEO, he’ll be doing so in an enviable position for a corporate chief: His legacy, business reputation, youth and health all will be intact.
But Doyle says he won’t have a clue about what he’s going to do next. The only thing he’ll know for sure is that he’ll have completed one of the most remarkable American business-success stories of the last decade by elevating Domino’s into the world’s No. 1 pizza maker from a position where Doyle admitted in a TV ad that people didn’t like its products.
While he understandably has had lots of offers and suggestions about what his next step might be, the 55-year-old Doyle says, “I don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m going to do. I wanted to finish strong at Domino’s and I didn’t want to distract my attention away from making the transition as smooth as it might be.
“We got our franchisees and Wall Street comfortable about the transition” to incoming CEO Richard Allison, currently Domino’s international chief. “The last thing I wanted to do was spend a lot of my time thinking about what was next. My wife and I want to take a little bit of time and put our feet up … and think through what we want our next adventure to be.”
Expect Doyle to spend more time with his wife and two adult daughters, and working on a golf game about which he’s suitably self-deprecating. But don’t necessarily expect him to return phone calls about serving on a board, helping another non-profit–or running another company. At least not for a while.
When he ascended from U.S. chief to the CEO’s job in 2010, Doyle’s goal was for Domino’s to overtake Pizza Hut on top of the pizza business. While overhauling product quality and marketing, buttressing relationships with Domino’s vital franchisees, and establishing an international expansion that is ongoing, he focused quickly on the need for the chain to leverage digital technology to improve a delivery experience where the brand originally made its mark.
“The best thing for the business is that when you’ve got someone to the point where they’re ready to go as the next CEO, and they’ve got their team in place ready to do well, then my job is to get out of the way and let that happen.”
So under Doyle’s leadership, Domino’s became a haven for tech-savvy millennials from the nearby University of Michigan and many other points. They leveraged digital smarts to make ordering, tracking and taking delivery of a Domino’s pizza arguably one of the world’s easiest commercial transactions and help vault their employer above a struggling Pizza Hut. Now about 500 people, roughly a majority of Domino’s headquarters workforce, are techies of some sort.
Successful succession has been another important part of Doyle’s legacy, the way he sees it. “Having a fabulous team is ultimately what drove the timing” of his departure from the company, he says. “After eight and a half years as CEO, my job is to get out of the way and let the next stage of growth occur.”
Why not oversee his accomplishments at Domino’s for a while longer? “My first conversation with my board about succession planning was probably six months into the [CEO] job,” he recalls. “And that’s the way it’s supposed to work. That can’t be driven by the person in the role. The best thing for the business is that when you’ve got someone to the point where they’re ready to go as the next CEO, and they’ve got their team in place ready to do well, then my job is to get out of the way and let that happen.”
Besides improving the Domino’s experience all around for its customers, and helping generate far better returns for franchisees who were hurting during the Great Recession, Doyle counts Domino’s becoming the top pizza chain as the greatest accomplishment of his tenure. And that isn’t just because it fulfilled some ego-driven goal.
“It’s a point of pride, but it’s also important because scale matters,” Doyle explains. “It drives efficiencies in distribution and the ability to buy advertising. And it gives you the ability to invest in things like technology that clearly have been a big part of what we’ve been doing.
“It also matters in bringing talent into the organization. We’ve accomplished what we have, and we’re a large player, and we can bring in new talent and recruit franchisees around where we’re going. That’s very important.”
Doyle insists that not only is scale a leveraged asset, but also that technological change has made it more so. “The speed with which you’re sorting through winners and losers in categories has increased,” he says. “So scale matters more than in the past. You’re seeing small, nimble players doing very well, and the largest players are doing very well in many industries. But traditional competitors who don’t have scale or agility are struggling to compete in a lot of categories.”
And he doesn’t mean only pizza. Doyle also points to grocery retailing as a vertical where “a lot of medium-size players are really struggling. They don’t have the agility of an Aldi coming in, nor the scale of a Walmart or Kroger.”
Here are some other insights on business and management from and about the “retiring” CEO of Domino’s:
Respect the brand: Tom Monaghan is the colorful founder of Domino’s, and though he sold the company in 1998, and few current employees might recognize him, Doyle invited him back a while ago to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Domino’s Farms.
“People were thrilled by it,” says Tim McIntyre, executive vice president of communications, investor relations and legislative affairs for Domino’s and a key member of Doyle’s team. “And that’s because Patrick understands this company is about something bigger than himself.”
Be a people person: There are “broadly two styles of leaders,” Doyle says: “People who are really good at process and structure” and “people who really lead through people and relationships with people. I’m hard over in that second camp. I have to rely on people.
“So for me what makes it work is having the right group of people, making sure that they’re working together well and that relationships are good between them.”
Lead collaboratively: Doug Rothwell, president of Business Leaders for Michigan, liked Doyle as chairman of the group because he can effectively shepherd a gathering of about 80 fellow CEOs.
“These are also pretty colorful, successful people, so you can’t act like you’ve got all the answers and you have it figured out – because a lot of these people do too,” Rothwell says. “You need to lead in a very collaborative way with this group, and so Patrick is absolutely perfect in that role.”
Trust, then verify …: Doyle “leads with trust,” McIntyre says. “He’ll interview you and challenge you and vet you, but once you’re in, you’re in – until such time that you behave in a way which demonstrates you’re counter to the success of the team.”
…. But don’t suffer jerks: Toxic personalities on a management team “are so destructive to the ability to drive change in an organization” that Doyle gets rid of “jerks” with dispatch.
“I don’t care what their skill set is,” he says. “If they’re really disruptive with their peers, it slows everything down. So you have to get them out of the organization or they’ll grind change to a halt. The people who look for mistakes in other people causes others to start taking fewer risks.”
Go for first downs: One of Doyle’s favorite management analogies involves criticizing football coaches for punting on fourth down too often, because it’s safe, instead of going for a first down.
“You’ve got to be taking some level of risk in an organization,” he says. “You’ve got to be trying things, and if you can do something that will generate the highest expected outcome, even with risk, you’re going to generate growth – and make for a fun place to work.”
Plus, Doyle adds, he’s read that “going for it” on fourth down works out far better for football coaches than is commonly assumed.