A Story of Change: 35 Years of Leading Dunkin Donuts with Robert Rosenberg

November 10, 2020
Barbara Castiglia


The restaurant industry has always been one of change and the need to adapt. Lessons learned from years of experience can contribute greatly to the next generation of food service entrepreneurs. Robert Rosenberg, former Dunkin Donuts CEO, was at the helm for 35 years, seeing his share of successes and failures. He’s now captured that time in a new book, Around the Corner to Around the World.

At only 25, he became the CEO of Dunkin Donuts, which started as one shop in Massachusetts. He would lead at times of prosperity and uncertainty, collecting key lessons along the way. “The book has 12 key lessons, broken into eras and talking about the changes in competitors, consumers, and technology. It’s a buffet of ideas for all stages of business and circumstances,” he commented.

The book is through the lens of a CEO. Rosenberg spelled out four critical functions of a CEO—shepherd strategy, recruit, retain, and motivate the organization, communication, and mobilizing small expert teams to respond to a crisis.

“Overall, it’s a story of change. Organizations must be agile and able to adapt. Much of the success of Dunkin was because I started listening. I was reading a book about hubris in leadership and had this transformation moment that I was guilty of this. So, I started listening to consumers, franchises, and executives,” Rosenberg noted.

That listening and input from franchisees, which he describes as partners, culminated in some innovative new products, Munchkins and iced coffee, to name a few.

He also established a Dunkin Donuts university for franchisees and some field jobs. He said, “Franchisees were critical to success and needed the support from us, and we also needed to hear from them to better adapt as a whole.”

Rosenberg offers a collection of stories, anecdotes, and lessons learned in the book, applicable to anyone who wants to build something and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.

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