Alumni Spotlight – Liz Williams, VP of Business Planning and Strategy for Taco Bell

As VP of Business Planning and Strategy for Taco Bell at Yum! Brands, Liz Williams, BBA, BHP ’98, leads the financial planning, marketing analysis, and strategy teams. She contributed to the smashing success of the newly launched Dorito Locos Taco, their most popular product ever, and has worked to improve the Taco Bell brand to make it more relevant to consumers.

What do you love about your job?
I love the great interaction I have with all of the business partners. In my role, I get to work closely with people in every function, from marketing, to finance, to operations. I also really love the Taco Bell brand. It has a great following and Yum! Brands is a terrific company to work for.

Any there any fun perks?
I get to eat a lot of tacos! I also really enjoy the recognition culture. We are very good about recognizing team members for their hard work and I think that is important. Working for Taco Bell, I get what the brand has to offer, but I also get the breadth and experience of the parent company and sister brands, which include KFC and Pizza Hut.

How did the Drive-Thru Diet® Menu come about?  How have you had to change strategy during this time of increasing emphasis on eating healthy and increased scrutiny on fast food chains?
This menu has been around for a couple years now, and it includes our Fresco Style items.  The menu has reduced calorie and healthier options. It’s important for us to find a balance in our menu offerings. We want to provide healthier options, but also keep people’s favorites on the menu. We just launched the Cantina Bell Menu that was inspired by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia. It has elevated quality perception and created more choices for consumers looking for layers of flavors.. The idea for it came from consumer insight calling for a better and more relevant Taco Bell. One great thing about being in the restaurant business is that it is easy for us to get consumer feedback because our customers are in our stores and using social media daily. Our store managers are listening to their feedback and bringing that information to us to drive strategy.

What was the strategy behind the launch of the Dorito Locos Taco and why do you think it has been so successful?
DLT, as we call it here, is something we really get excited about- —we sold more than 10 million in just 10 weeks! Going back to the better and more relevant Bell, we were trying to find a way to highlight the better Bell. We were talking about ways to make the taco shell better, while also doing something really innovative to celebrate Taco Bell’s 50th anniversary. Our brand and the Frito Lay brand ended up coming together in a co-branding partnership to create the DLT. The launch was done through a hybrid of media, focusing on social networking platforms. We saw a lot of success using this new launch model. DLT has had great sales, great customer feedback, and it is good for the operations because we know how to make tacos. I think the product has been so successful because it is a craveable product and it was the perfect trifecta of great marketing, innovation and operations. Financially it has also been great for us because we can price it at a premium. It is rare that you get a product that is a slam dunk in all of these areas. We plan to make a platform out of this and will have more innovation to come with new Doritos flavors in the future.

Yum! Brands has a presence internationally. How do you change your product strategy to accommodate for cultural differences?
Taco Bell is starting to expand globally, but is still pretty much domestic. When we expand into international markets though, we do try to balance the global brand with what local has to offer. I did some with this when I was at Yum! Brands before moving into my Taco Bell role. Yum! Brands’ growth outside the US is a huge initiative for us. We are putting resources into global growth and are working to make our products relevant to the local market. We are just at the beginning of global growth for Taco Bell.

How did your career in consulting and sales translate into corporate strategy work?
Being in sales gave me the confidence I needed to help me deal with the thrill of winning and the reality of rejection. It also got me deeply rooted and really focused on a goal and objective. Consulting was influential in giving me a well-rounded background in problem solving and being objective when looking at problems and opportunities. It also helped me to be a quick learner and to be comfortable working in new situations with people on the fly. One big change that I had from working in consulting is that in consulting, the work is theoretical, but in the restaurant industry, execution is important. In consulting you don’t have to worry as much about taking people with you or creating buy-in for your strategy, but that is crucial to success in this industry.

Were there any skills or lessons you learned in the BHP that have been invaluable to you in your career?
BHP was very rigorous and that challenge helped me up my game, ask questions in class, and develop my inquisitive side. The caliber of the professors and students made me realize I needed to bring my A-game to everything I did. When I was interviewing for jobs, having BHP on my resume helped me get opportunities since employers knew the reputation of the program. The program also helped me learn to work with teams. If you can’t work together with a team, then you are going to have a hard time in the professional world.

What advice do you have for current BHP students?
Challenge yourself in any work situation to gain more experience. Get as much experience as you can and keep challenging yourself to take on new things. When you feel like you are out of your comfort zone, that is the best time for growth. You can use the skills you are gaining to re-brand yourself if you need to down the road. I didn’t switch employers to do this, I just constantly asked for different opportunities.

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