The C-Suite Insider: Arby's CEO Explains the One Policy That Led to Internet Wins

How Paul Brown manages mountains of meat.

BySusanna Kim
November 10, 2014, 6:04 AM

— -- Paul Brown, Arby's CEO for less than two years, has overseen the company during its biggest viral hits, including the Grammy's via Pharrell's hat, and he attributes the online attention mainly to one decision.

"Our social media team has the ability to speak on behalf of the company," Brown told ABC News. It's a policy change that took place around December 2013, a month before the Grammy's, when musician Pharrell showed up in a big, brown hat by Vivienne Westwood. (Arby's logo is a brown hat.)

"As part of that, we obviously trained the team and that allowed them to act in the moment. If they don’t act in the moment, it’s not real," Brown, 47, said. "Everything we do has to be authentic. We will primarily listen and we will amplify the message if the conversation has already started."

As part of ABC News' "C-Suite Insider" series, Brown explained that the 50-year-old Arby's is now a leaner, meaner and meatier company.

When the Grammys aired on television, Facebook users posted on Arby's about Pharrell before the restaurant Tweeted about it.

Arby's has rocketed into a relevant social media conversation ever since, with help from Chief Marketing Officer Rob Lynch, who came from Taco Bell just 14 months ago.

Back in May, the company posted a 13-hour commercial that just showed a brisket cooking. Half a million people tuned in online to watch it smoke and kept it on for an average of 38 minutes.

In September, the Internet was flush with stories about Arby's "Meat Mountain" sandwich. It's an accidental, "secret" menu item that customers started asking for based on a marketing poster that showed all the meats Arby sells in sandwiches. The company has sold 50,000 "Meat Mountains." And on Halloween, Arby's customers could add bacon to any menu item by saying "Trick or Meat."

Starting today, a new "Montreal Steak and Mushroom" and "Philly and Three Cheese and Bacon" sandwich are limited time offerings that the company hopes will prove that the restaurant sells more than just the roast beef sandwiches it's famous for.

Here's some quick questions for the CEO:

1. By marketing Arby’s quality meats and "fast-crafted" products, does this contrast with customers’ goals of trying to eat healthier?

"Not at all. Arby’s guests can enjoy fast-crafted sandwiches featuring high quality meats that are freshly sliced and made-to-order," Brown said. "Many guests seeking healthy options want high quality, high protein options, which is our specialty."

Brown points to Arby's Market Fresh Roast Turkey and Swiss sandwich, which has 39 grams of protein. There are 10 menu items that are less than 500 calories. Brown points out that the Classic Roast Beef sandwich has only 360 calories, 14 grams of fat, and has 23 grams of protein.

2. How much is Arby’s investing in restaurant renovations?

Arby’s remodel plans include around 30 company-owned restaurants in 2014 and more than 150 company-owned and franchised restaurants in 2015, Brown said, with a renewed focus on service. The company has about 3,200 locations in the U.S.

PHOTO: Arby's is celebrating its 50th anniversary with new menu offerings and revamped restaurants.
Arby's is celebrating its 50th anniversary with new menu offerings and revamped restaurants.
Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc.

"Our new building design, which features a fast casual look and feel with quick-service restaurant economics, is receiving positive feedback from our guests and franchisees," he said.

PHOTO: Arby's Restaurant Group is investing in many of its locations across the country.
Arby's Restaurant Group is investing in many of its locations across the country.
Arby’s Restaurant Group Inc.

Brown uses the term "fast-crafted," which he says combines the best of "quick-service restaurants," that is industry-speak for fast food; and fast-casual restaurants, like Chipotle.

3. Any Manhattan location-scouting updates?

Brown said the company has developed a series of more efficient, smaller restaurant designs to grow in urban locations like New York City.

"We consistently hear from New Yorkers that they would love to have an Arby’s restaurant in Manhattan and we’re working to make that happen, but nothing definitive just yet," he said.

4. What's your daily routine like?

Brown, 47, said he doesn't have a fixed routine, as his schedule requires a lot of travel. He says he gets about 5.5 hours of sleep and wakes up around 4:30 a.m. He has a morning workout with a trainer "a couple times a week."

"I'm usually in the office around 7:30 in morning and I take my son to school on the way whenever I can," he said.

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