JWU News

‘Data Is the Way Forward’: Business Lessons from Dunkin’ Brands’ Nigel Travis

Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis

10/6/16 | Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis opened his hour-long talk at JWU’s Providence Campus with an unusual request. “Call me Nigel,” he told the crowd of roughly 400 School of Business students. “Let’s keep this informal.”

Over the course of his briskly conversational but focused presentation, he touched on topics both big (Dunkin’ Brands’ 5-year plan; the impact of technology and globalization on growth) and small (why his background as a DJ proved useful in business).

Joining him on stage was Jeff Miller ’98, executive chef and vice president of product innovation for Dunkin’ Brands, who explained that there are 10-15 JWU alumni working at the global brand’s Canton headquarters at any given time. “I actually work with my college roommate!”

The two had an easy rapport as they laid out their vision for Dunkin’ Donuts and its sister company, Baskin Robbins.

“The world is growing at such a rapid pace,” noted Travis. “You have to put strategies in place to handle the speed of change.”

Where do you want to be in 5 years — and what are your obstacles to getting there?”

At Dunkin’ Brands, the focus is on harnessing the power of tech to a business advantage. “Data is the way forward,” Travis noted. “We put a lot of resources behind competitive intelligence. I always tell franchisees to get out of their stores and take a look at their competitors.”

Travis’ years at Blockbuster, where he served as both president and COO, taught him a crucial lesson that he carries with him at every strategy meeting: “Always think ahead to ‘What could go wrong? What’s the worst scenario around the corner?’”

“Blockbuster doesn’t exist because the company didn’t take vending seriously enough,” he explained. To students, he emphasized the need to be strategic and proactive in navigating their own careers: “Where do you want to be in 5 years — and what are your obstacles to getting there?”

With an eye on the future, Dunkin’ Brands is looking at multiple factors to feed growth.

Blending speed and convenience, the company’s “On the Go” app allows customers to order ahead and skip the line. Currently in development are vending machines to bring Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to gas stations, rest stops and otherwise franchise-free locations. “Vending is the future of coffee,” noted Travis.

Dunkin’ Brands Chairman and CEO Nigel Travis speaking at JWU Providence with Jeff Miller '98, VP of product innovation.

Jeff Miller, JWU alum and executive chef at Dunkin’ Brands, chatting with CEO Nigel Travis

Miller shared the company’s next big product rollout: A new bottled coffee drink that will go head-to-head with Starbucks’ Frappuccino in the RTD (ready-to-drink) market.

“We do roughly 129 product tests every year,” noted Miller. “That’s a lot.”

Dunkin’ Donuts is expanding rapidly into global markets, including a recent brand relaunch in China. Miller is particularly excited about the sweet corn and pork floss doughnut developed for that market. “It sounds weird but it’s like a bacon doughnut here.”

Another focus, both in the US and abroad, is sustainability. The in-house team is working on a new, improved cup and lid design that is fully recyclable (and possibly compostable).

Vending is the future of coffee.”

As the talk wound down, a student asked how being a soccer coach helped Travis as a leader.

“I’ve been a coach for 48 years — yes, I’m ancient!” he joked. “Last week, the 11-year-olds I currently coach were down 3-1 at half time. Rather than berate them — I think they half-expected it — I asked them, ‘Can you tell me what’s going on out there?’ The trick is getting people to tell you the message rather than you telling them. It’s a two-way dialogue.”

Later in the afternoon, Travis and Miller convened with a small group of business students for a roundtable discussion about the state of the industry. Students were eager to ask questions, particularly about the ways technology is changing the business climate.

In response, Travis told a story about how his 11-year-old son came home from school, excitedly proclaiming, “Dad, guess what I got at school today: A textbook!” This was a first for his son, as everything else he had done in school had been done online.

His final bit of advice for all the students in the room? “Get media training. It is absolutely critical!”

Business roundtable discussion at JWU Providence

Topics: Providence Business