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ANDY PUZDER, president & CEO,
CKE Restaurants, Inc./Hardee's Food Systems, Inc.

$6 Burgers and a $1 Billion Business.

By PAM DROOG

When Wilber Hardee opened the first Hardee’s® restaurant in Greenville, N.C. in 1961, Andrew Puzder was 11 years old, enjoying life in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, occasionally indulging in a McDonald’s cheeseburger. He couldn’t possibly have imagined that as a grownup he’d run the parent company of other well-known brands in the quick-service restaurant industry (otherwise known as fast food).

As president and chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, a New York Stock Exchange company, Puzder oversees the operations of Carl’s Jr., La Salsa, Green Burrito and Hardee’s. In fact, in September 2000, he moved the Hardee’s headquarters to downtown St. Louis, the city he lived and prospered in from 1975 to 1991.

Puzder explains, Hardee’s headquarters was in Rocky Mount, N.C., and CKE was based in Santa Barbara. “If we had a meeting in Rocky Mount, we’d spend a whole day just getting there—the time zones took their toll,” he says. “We knew we needed a Midwest location and St. Louis has always been one of Hardee’s biggest markets.”

Today, the corporate plane can deliver Puzder to a Hardee’s meeting in three hours and 20 minutes. When he stays over, it’s at the Chase Park Plaza. “If you have to travel, that’s the way to do it,” Puzder says. He’s lived in California for more than a decade, but he’s back in St. Louis every other week so “I don’t have time to miss it!” he says.

Puzder arrived in St. Louis in 1975 to attend Washington University Law School, after earning a bachelor’s degree at Cleveland State University. He received his J.D. in 1978, and joined The Law Offices of Morris A. Shenker. In 1984 he went to the Stolar Partnership (where his son Christian works today). In 1991, he moved to California to join the law firm of Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth where he remained until 1995. Then he served as executive vice president and general counsel for Fidelity National Financial, Inc. and chief executive officer of Santa Barbara Restaurant Group, Inc.

Puzder joined CKE in 1997 as executive vice president, general counsel, additionally overseeing franchising at Carl’s Jr. In 1998 he also took over management of franchising at Hardee’s. In June 2000 he became president and CEO of Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc. and assumed his current position in September 2000.

The former corporate and litigation lawyer today oversees a $1.43 billion company with more than 3,400 locations in 45 states and 15 foreign countries, including 2,255 Hardee’s in 32 states and 11 foreign countries. The big news in the QSR world, Puzder says, is the impact of pricing wars by McDonald’s and Burger King. “It’s hurting both of them, and we’re not going to enter into it,” he says. “Instead, at Hardee’s we’re sticking with our focus on premium products.”

Last year’s sales were helped by Hardee’s Six-Dollar Burger. Based on that product’s success, the company is testing a line of charbroiled burgers in the Hardee’s at Interstate 44 and Hampton. Table service and an all-you-can-drink beverage bar were added, and the restaurant’s interior, signage and lunch and dinner menus also have changed.

Since the test program began in the Midwest and Southeast, Puzder says things have improved in every area. He should know—he personally visits hundreds of restaurants a year. During the on-site visits, besides eating at least one menu item, he watches the wait crews deal with customers. “I note if they’re polite, did they try and get the order right,” he says. “I walk around and make sure the dining area is clean. I go to the back and watch the cooks.”

Those cooks are among the company’s 33,200-plus employees worldwide. One hundred twenty work in Hardee’s St. Louis headquarters and 12 of them report directly to Puzder. His management philosophy is “to let good people do their jobs and encourage them to make decisions,” he says.

Since moving Hardee’s headquarters to St. Louis, Puzder has associated the brand with several notable St. Louis names and events. Sponsorships include the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Cardinals, Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis Gateway Classic Foundation, the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s St. Louis Race for the Cure and the St. Louis Crisis Nursery.

A recently-elected RCGA board member, Puzder has a unique perspective on the region based on commuting between California and St. Louis. Though he believes St. Louis is a vibrant community that does a lot to attract and support business, he feels “something must be done with St. Louis Centre. As long as it’s in the condition it’s in, revitalizing downtown will be hard,” he says.

Away from his downtown offices, Puzder enjoys jogging and lifting weights, as well as spending time with his wife and three young sons. He also has two older sons (a physicist and a lawyer) and a daughter (a fashion designer). Puzder expects his restaurants to become industry leaders as they continue to provide quality and value for millions of diners. As for himself, he says, “I thought I’d become a lawyer and practice law forever. But I am very content.”


Pam Droog is a frequent contributor to St. Louis Commerce Magazine.

 

 

 


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