The Power of Value Based Leadership With Wingstop’s CEO Charlie Morrison

10 May , 2021 podcasts

The Power of Value Based Leadership With Wingstop’s CEO Charlie Morrison

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership


The Covid-19 pandemic has crushed and destroyed so many businesses. It didn’t matter if they were big or small, most of the companies that went bankrupt during the pandemic lacked a clear vision. It takes a true leader to take over and grab the wheel of the company when it’s needed most. Join your host, Katherine Twells, in this lovely conversation with Wingstop Chairman and CEO, Charlie Morrison. Follow Charlie as he talks about value-based leadership and how the digital age saved his company from the treacherous depths of 2020. Learn how to market, plan, think on your toes, and build company values so that your company can succeed and continue to grow towards the future.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Power of Value Based Leadership With Wingstop’s CEO Charlie Morrison

Leveraging The Wingstop Way For Post-Pandemic Growth

It is with great pleasure that I share with you my conversation with Charlie Morrison, Chairman and CEO of Wingstop Inc. Charlie and I originally sat down at the COEX Conference in April 2021 to discuss how his strong foundation of leadership values helped him navigate the tremendous adversity of 2020. Charlie is responsible for leading the strategic direction of Wingstop, as well as its expanding global operations. He’s an industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience with various companies, including Pizza Hut, Steak and Ale restaurants, Kinko’s and Boston Market. He joined Wingstop in June of 2012. In 2015, he took the next step and led Wingstop in the completion of its initial public offering, listing the company, which has been noted as the most successful IPO in the history of the restaurant industry. Based on his leadership, he is a recipient of several distinguished restaurant industry awards, including the 2015 Golden Chain Award and the 2016 Silver Plate Award.

Effective communication is key to being successful during difficult times. Click To Tweet

He also believes in giving back. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the KSU Foundation and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Business at Kansas State University of which he is a proud graduate. In our discussion, you are going to read how preparation not only meets opportunity but meets adversity. For Charlie, his preparation was key in facing the challenges of the pandemic as they unfolded. He was an early adopter of digital technologies. His passion for a value-based culture and clear communication and connection with his team was another way that he was able to pivot his strategies and allow Wingstop to continue to thrive in the most difficult of times. Charlie is committed to giving back to an industry that he loves. He is a leader who is modeling the way forward. Without any further delay, please enjoy the conversation with Charlie Morrison.

Charlie, we are so grateful that we are having this conversation. I know that everyone is going to benefit from your insights. Thank you so much.

Thank you for having me. I’m honored.

We are going to jump into some questions because we have a lot to talk about in the conversation. Let’s get started from the beginning. We all seem to end up in places that are driven by how we got started by our origin story. Can you share with everyone a little bit about your origin story and how did you end up doing what you are doing now and having the mission that you do in your work world?

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership

Value Based Leadership: There are a couple of things that will happen during a crisis: you’ll test your organization’s culture and understand the importance of partnership.


How It All Started

It has been an eventful ride for me. My origins, right before I graduated college, I had a professor who inspired me around the idea of the importance of information, data gathering and what that meant for business. This was in the late ‘80s. PCs and access to information were becoming more of a thing. He said, “You need to figure out a way to capitalize on that. Go and learn a programming language.” I did, and I learned COBOL. Learning COBOL in college in my senior year was what got me a foot in the door at Pizza Hut when they were owned by PepsiCo in the days. We were able to access information by writing mountains of code to get data for our management team.

They put me in a position of being able to learn a lot about business in a short period of time. As I think about that, that led me into a career that started in a finance and strategy track. At Pizza Hut, I was in the FP&A organization. Not only did I have an opportunity to work with some of the most amazing leaders that we have seen in our industry over the years at that time but it was an opportunity for me to gather a lot of insights that helped shape me as a leader surrounding things like our value system that we have now. Also, the importance of leveraging intellectual curiosity and a sense of urgency to help drive business, which has carried me forward. As I look at the path my career took, Pizza Hut was in the delivery business. In a big way, it was an emerging part of the business during that time.

It continued to grow and become pretty much the entirety of the business as we see now. That helped shape some experiences throughout my career. I was honored and had the opportunity to work for a brand called Kinko’s. If you remember the copy centers that didn’t serve food and it wasn’t in our industry but interestingly, we fed paper into machines, we put ink and toner on the paper and delivered that in a digital way to our customers. There were a lot of similarities between how that business ran to how the pizza business or the restaurant business applies itself. It was all centered around service-based retail at that time.

As I think about how that career progressed, I went back into the restaurants. I had a great stint with Steak and Ale, which is an iconic brand in our industry. Many of us know so many people who were part of that organization and then into Pizza Inn, another iconic brand that had some challenges that we had to work on and fix. Our success there led me to where I am now and that’s Wingstop where I started in 2012. I have been here for several years. I have been able to take a lot of those learnings, digital, delivery, the importance of leveraging information and technology, and help shape the way that this brand has been put together over the past several years and how we are going to move forward.

The mutual beneficial relationships you have are going to be those that are going to serve you well in good and bad times. Click To Tweet

Charlie, isn’t it amazing when we look back on our journey, who knew when you learned that computer program that that was going to launch you and then you got into these other things? It’s fascinating to watch the path that we walk to get where we are now and look at the growth. How many restaurants now do Wingstop have in total?

Enter, Wingstop

Over 1,500 locations around the United States and in nine countries around the world. We have grown a lot in a short period of time.

We are going to get into some of the secrets of your success and how you have been able to continue to have this type of growth even with all the challenges we have seen in the world. Let’s stay broad before we get into that. I have been in the foodservice industry for 31 years. That does not include my first job in a restaurant where a lot of us get started. What is it that you love about this industry? What is it that is so special about it?

There are so many things I love about this industry. Notably, it’s the focus this industry has on taking care of hungry people. That’s what we do every day. We make sure that we provide them with access to a meal occasion that fits what they are craving. If I think about where we have been over the career, the experience I have had dealing with companies with technology and thinking about how technology can also apply to an industry like ours and food service where you would seem that that’s left for CPG or other organizations, that’s not the case. Technology drives everything now. If I boiled it down to one thing, it’s the people in this industry. It’s one of the largest industries in the world and yet we know so many people. We all have a common path. We all share a common passion for what we do. It’s a small world for such a large industry. To me, that’s what I love the most.

Whenever people come through an interview process with Coke and they asked me, “Why have you been with this company so long?” One of the things that I do say is the people. Everyone that I have worked with, not only within my organization but within my customers’ organizations, are unbelievably wonderful people. I could not agree more. You talked about technology. For all of us who have seen the industry shift over the decades, it has been dramatic and the changes that we see. We all sat here this time in 2020 wondering what in the world has happened as the pandemic got started in Q1. We were all dealing with this massive crisis that for all of us, we have never dealt with before. Through all of this, Wingstop was able to thrive. What was it about what you did differently and how you manage this crisis situation that allowed Wingstop to be so successful in 2020?

We have been blessed as an organization during this difficult time. It has been demonstrated in our growth but it’s also demonstrated in what it is that got us to where we are now and why we were well-positioned. Nobody plans for a pandemic and for these types of things to happen. What you can plan for is to insulate your business from challenges that the world throws in front of you, be it competition or everything that we face every single day. A lot of it centers on two things. Number one, almost from the day I got here until now, we have spent a lot of time and effort investing in technology and digitizing transactions. I have noted many times that my vision would be that we digitize 100% of the transactions that come into Wingstop.

That doesn’t mean you won’t walk in the door of our restaurants but when you do, how do we turn that into a digital transaction and capture lots of information that are valuable to us? We were well on our way with the infrastructure and everything necessary to do that. In addition to that, a lot of brands have invested in technology. The pizza chains have done this over the years and perfected it. Other brands have jumped in a hurry during the pandemic or even before that but we were there. The success for us was making sure that we didn’t steer away from what got us to where we are, recognizing what we have in front of us. We leaned in on our culture as an organization. That’s the second big piece. Perhaps the biggest component of our success is we have a robust and well-established culture in this company.

It’s easy to say that but you have to experience it to understand it and believe in it. We have spent years making sure that we don’t just construct a culture that is a set of values that we stick on the wall and everybody walks by but it’s how we behave and how we show up as an organization. When the pandemic struck and we had tough decisions to make, we were able to do it with a few key things in mind. Number one, we made sure that we made quick decisions and we communicated often. We did the right things with our team, with our franchisees and with our supplier partners to make sure that we were well-positioned. Not knowing where we were going to end up but also knowing that we had to be nimble, quick and decisive.

That was effective because our level of communication is pretty extraordinary in this company. It’s also interesting to note that we don’t have goals and targets as a company that is time-bound. Part of what allowed us to be flexible was we weren’t worried about what was immediately in front of us and the targets in front of us. Our targets are evergreen. We have a big vision and we are always striving to get that big vision, which is to become a top ten global restaurant brand. Our efforts that we focused on during the pandemic we’re taking advantage of the acceleration, which we think was as much as two years of performance accelerated from where we expected to be. We are capitalizing on that and continuing to be nimble and adjust as we go. Not having constraints, not allowing complacency to set in while we were doing well and making sure that we stayed true to our vision and our culture is what has helped propel this brand during this time.

I’m seeing some patterns here, where I go back to your origin story to get skills and to be prepared. There is that saying that, “Preparation meets opportunity and crisis.” None of us could ever have expected what happened. I’m looking at how you have prepared, how you were already tuned in to the digital landscape, how that was changing and the power of that? I applaud the fact that you were able to meet that crisis with such savvy by already being ready to expand your digital. This dynamic of having evergreen goals is interesting because sometimes the time-bound dynamics do constrain us to a place we might not make the right choices. There is much to learn about how you manage that.

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership

Value Based Leadership: The biggest component of success is having a robust and well-established culture in your company.


I know how passionate you are about culture. It’s well-known and we see it in the way that your company operates. It’s so much more than something on the wall. It’s how we show up every single day. Let’s rewind. Let’s get into the drama. Let’s go back to 2020. It’s March and you have gathered your leaders in the Wingstop conference room or via Wingstop Zoom. You are saying, “What are we going to do?” Share with us a little bit about what went on in those meetings. What was the cultural side of this with your team?

The Covid-19 Situation

It was a shock to everybody. We had to make decisions quickly. Mid-March 2020, everything started to shut down and we did too. We adopted a strategy called FILO at the end of the day, First In, Last to Open. We were one of the first brands that shut down all our dining rooms across the country and converted to a purely digital business. That was a tough decision to make but the right decision for our brand. We were blessed with the infrastructure and a great partner in DoorDash to be able to affect that change overnight. What was going on inside the organization was uncertainty, doubt, lack of clarity, information was flowing in at a rapid pace.

We took it upon ourselves to put a team together of about 20 to 25 team members in the company. We created this task force. We conducted two-a-days. I use the old practice term of two-a-days. We did two-a-day meetings with this team, seven days a week because that’s how often our restaurants were open. Along the way, everybody had a point of expertise that they shared, whether it be what’s happening in local markets, what are the rules and regulations around opening your doors, serving food, mask mandates, PPE, everything else that went with it. Everybody had a responsibility. We all reported out. That was important for us. We have a meeting that we hold quarterly typically prior to the pandemic, we call it NETMA, which is an acronym that stands for Nobody Ever Tells Me Anything. We do that so we can eliminate that idea that nobody ever tells me anything.

We moved that meeting to once a week. We had all 250-plus of our team members in the corporate office and the field leadership on a Zoom call once a week. That same team that was meeting two a day spent time talking about what’s going on. It’s important for any organization that communication is critical, especially in a crisis. We do all these crisis plans in our organizations. You have to take it out and dust it off the shelf and make sure you are doing it. If it’s natural to the organization by way of how the culture is defined, then it can be natural in the state of a crisis too. That’s what turned out to be a positive for us. People were used to communicating and engaging the way we did. At the end of the day, that worked well for us.

As we communicated often, we were able to make quick decisions. We modified our advertising overnight. We adjusted our digital team and resources to make sure that we can handle the volume of business that was coming in. We were intimately involved with all of our supplier partners, including Coca-Cola, to make sure that the product was flowing and that it was coming through the DCs and that we were getting enough chicken wings to serve our guests. All of these things were going on and they were happening so quickly. To me, it was all about making sure that getting the team together, communicating often and effectively was key to our success during the difficult time. It allowed us to also feel comfortable that we are together still as a team. We are not isolated and not in a difficult spot. That made a difference for us as well.

When you make a relationship with someone, don't go in hammering for that extra nickel every single time. Click To Tweet

Communication is so key as I think back to 2020 and what was going on. People needed to see you and hear you and talk to each other because everyone was going through this shared adversity. I also find there are so much inspiration in times like that. All the things that your team did to mobilize, to address and meet the needs of the organization and the situation going on is phenomenal. I applaud all of that work. Let’s fast forward to now. You have been able to move from 80% off-premise to 100%, all the digital that you have talked about. You have completely capitalized on this. You have advanced strategies around delivery and great strategic partnerships around this. As other operators and other people think about their own business, what are the learnings from this digital evolution for you?

There are quite a few. I will start first with the importance of our partnerships. I have said this for many years. There are a couple of things that will happen during a crisis. Number one, they will truly test your culture and you will understand whether or not you share behaved values that are inherent in your organization. Wingstop has been a brand that has had a lot of success. I keep telling the team that one of these years, it’s going to not be as strong as it was the prior year. How are we going to behave? The other piece that I’ve stressed in our organization is that when things are going well and your business is performing, you tend to not recognize the importance of partnerships that you have to support your business.

I’m a big believer that your supplier partners are a critical link to your business. The relationships you develop, the mutually beneficial relationships you have are going to be those that are going to serve you well in good and bad times. I can’t say enough about all of our key partners in our business. Performance Food Group delivers all our food to our restaurants. George and his team did a beautiful job of making sure that we had a supply when their business was going the other direction. Coca-Cola, you know this all too well, fountain beverages were not being served at the rate they were and yet, Coca-Cola was there with us to help us in terms of solving some of the problems we had about how do we get drinks out the door more efficiently. DoorDash, what a great partnership to have.

We were committed. We could have picked up multiple different delivery platforms and capitalized on those as others have but we chose to stick with the partnership that we worked on, developed and was tried and true. The brand has benefited from that. As I look to each of those, I was involved in conversations with leadership from each of those organizations on the phone that first few weeks talking about, “What do we need to do to help each other?” That in and of itself was key and paramount to our success. If I provide any wisdom to anybody, work with your supplier partners on something mutually beneficial, don’t go in hammering for that extra nickel every single time. Think about how their business operates, how they make money and how we can both make money together and be successful because it’s going to pay huge dividends in opportunities like this.

In addition to that, our positioning being a digital leader and having such a strong culture, we call our culture the Wingstop way but being able to capitalize on both of those and leverage the strength we have in both was key to our ability to pivot quickly and see the results. I can’t say enough about our team. We have an extraordinarily talented group of people. Our culture makes sure that the people who are with us are the ones that truly believe and buy into how we operate and how we want to move the brand forward. They excel during the most difficult times. We had our share of challenges, no doubt about it because everybody does but we were there for each other. Much like with our supplier partners, our team, our franchisees, our brand partners who are able to steady the ship and keep things moving beautifully, it was amazing to watch them in action. That’s what drove it.

Sometimes dark times can produce a lot of inspiration and you realize that we are in this together. This is a business ecosystem. Everything that we do affects each other. Our ability to come together during challenges is so valuable. Sometimes we take it for granted when everything is sailing along well. We need to cultivate those relationships for those tough times. As we think about crisis, there are different skills when you have to lead during a crisis. It’s not quite the same as we talk about smooth waters. When you think about COVID, you think about social justice and everything that happened in 2020. How did your life experience, both professionally and personally, contribute to your navigation of all of this?

I would be hard-pressed to find anybody who didn’t learn a substantial amount about life and their professional life as well, life at home and the professional side of it. There was so much happening this year and so much is probably still going to happen. Our society is going through a lot of pain and transformation. It’s a difficult time now in our country but it’s an equally difficult time to be operating a business. How those two things come together has been tough. The one important thing I learned is that those two can’t be separated from each other. You cannot expect your people to come to work and leave their problems behind at home, especially in this Zoom environment where you never know what’s going to happen. The dog will be barking. My dog is in my lap half the time trying to get my attention but then at the same time, there are real challenges people are dealing with.

The George Floyd Incident

We dealt with real challenges, multiple ones. When George Floyd was killed, it added an element of challenge to every organization that we needed to learn how to react to and deal with. I heard more people tell me during that time after his death, I have always come to work and was told I have to put it aside and put my head down and get to work. We have these meetings where we get everybody together and we talk about what’s on our minds. That day right after George Floyd was killed, I shared that this is on my mind and it’s weighing on me heavily. I’m outraged and upset. I want to do something about it. Being a white man, I’m not sure I clearly understand everything that goes on in the community especially among black people. I want to understand that and take action against it and do something about it.

I opened up the mute line on the Zoom call that day, which you are not supposed to do. Everybody was supposed to be muted and I’m supposed to speak and we were supposed to say all these things. That wasn’t the case. I wanted to hear what people had to say. It was amazing, the rich, raw emotional conversation that we had that was real. I said, “We got to do something about that.” People do bring a lot to work. It’s a struggle and a challenge for them, how can we open up communication within our organizations? As a leader who has a lot of responsibility, how can I open up that dialogue and share it in such a way that it’s productive and healthy for the organization, not working against progress? We did. We have expanded things since. We now have a meeting that we host every other week called to speak your flavor, which we will throw a topic in the room. Anybody can join at any time. You are not required to. It’s open to our Board of Directors all the way to every team member in the organization. All of them show up.

We talk about what’s going on in life. It may be a current event and celebrating women in our organization and how we continue to build, within our company, diversity and expand that. We also then talk about hate and what goes on. There are so much hate happening. I almost feel like our society is fueling it more so than we are trying to find peace. It’s a great opportunity to open the dialogue and talk about things we may not clearly understand but at least getting some insight and do it in a safe environment where everybody can benefit. It creates an opportunity for peace and unity. If we can do that in our corporations and we can create that opportunity, we will be a lot less reliant on our politicians to be the ones to go do it for us as we think is necessary. As leaders of corporations, we can make that happen. We are doing it here. It’s tough at times. We might stumble and make a mistake but we are going to look for forgiveness as much as we are for calling people out as a way to help us navigate through the challenging times.

Charlie, I want to thank you for modeling the way and talking about the fact that those lines are blurred across so many things in our personal and professional lives, where corporations need to participate. Conscious capitalism started years ago as we started thinking about sustainability and our responsibility to the planet. Now, it’s social capitalism and how we show up for each other. I know we are talking about values and living into those values. Everything you articulated so beautifully is about taking a stand and being a leader that stands behind the values that you espouse.

We are working hard.

You are doing a wonderful job with that. One other question before I’m going to change gears and go into a slightly different area. As you think about all these amazing things that you have accomplished and learned, it has been deep learning for all of us. You start to look ahead again to the future and where are we going to go. What aspects of consumer and business structure now, do you feel you had the greatest opportunity as we start paving our way forward into a new future?

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership

Value Based Leadership: No one plans for a pandemic, but what you can plan for is to insulate your business through challenges that the world throws in front of you.

Paving Way For The Future

We have shown in one year how fast this transformation we anticipated to happen has taken place. That transformation is this new digital world. Consumers now easily have access to the product services and things that they need at the touch of a button. It’s important for us, as business leaders to recognize the preferences they have. People probably won’t dine out as much as they did before. We are going to have to be creative and thoughtful about how we make our products available to them seamlessly and easily fashion because that’s what they are going to reward. The ability to leverage information to power our businesses and make us nimbler will be paramount. The ways of how we have done it before for so long are going to change dramatically.

People want to stay home more. They want to have a flexible work schedule and flexibility in their eating occasions. They want to choose the way they do things. That is the culture that’s out there. We’ve got to adapt to it. Even at Wingstop, we are thrilled with the fact that we’ve got a robust infrastructure to be able to support that but that’s not going to slow us down. We are going to consistently break it and rebuild it again. You will see that, over time. A key component to our long-term strategy and achieving our goal is to not get complacent. That’s a negative value of ours that we don’t want but instead, continue to push and make sure that we are always reaching forward towards that vision.

Complacency, there is no space for that in this environment. Things are changing entirely too fast. I’m thinking about everything you shared in your story from how you got started to how you evolved as a strong people leader, cultural leader and the things that are important to you. Along the way, we have mentors, guides and people that inspire us. I’m sure you are an inspiration to those that you are mentoring. Who’s inspired you who has been a leader, whether it’s been someone you have known personally or someone from afar, that’s inspired your leadership?

I have had a lot of people who inspired me over the years. Some who I watched do it right and some who I watched did not do it right because you have to learn as you go. We learn from every experience. Early in my career when I was at Pizza Hut, I had a real opportunity. I was talking to a former colleague from another brand who both of us grew up in a similar environment in our careers. We are having a conversation, reflecting on life and business and how it was going. Having both grown up in the same cultural organization, we were able to have a front-row seat to some fabulous leaders that are out there in the industry. I never have forgotten about the fact that when I was a Junior Financial Planning guy at Pizza Hut, I had a front-row seat to watch Steven Reinemund all day long and have him interact with Wayne Calloway. They were two of our industry leaders at the time that inspired a culture of performance accountability and people-oriented in that organization.

What was interesting was they always gave us as the junior members of the team, if we are the ones doing the work, we are showing up in the room to see it be presented. Those are valuable lessons and something that I can take hopefully, in our organization and continue to make sure that that’s something that team members in our company can learn from. Over the years, I have worked with so many great people like Joe Hardin, who taught me a lot about getting out of the office and showing up in somebody’s office or cubicle. Chatting and getting to know people as to who they are and not just what they do for us. The list goes on and on but a couple of inspiring folks showed me how to do it right.

It’s amazing as I think back on the people that have inspired me and the people that you shared. It does make a difference because you see it in an action. You get to feel the results of their actions. How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel empowered, seen, heard and safe? Just to rise into your own and to have people believe in you and see things in you before you do, that’s wonderful. We are all here to help each other make that journey. As I think about the pandemic and everything that happened, it punctuated this whole idea of the power of our human connection. All of a sudden, everything was a face on a screen, which thank goodness, we had that technology. Can you imagine if we didn’t? It would have been even more isolating.

We might stumble but look for forgiveness as much as we are calling people out as a way to help us navigate through rough times. Click To Tweet

We have this technology but it’s not the same. I’m getting into conversations now with people at Coke like, “How do we replace the water cooler conversations?” People bumping into each other, coming up with ideas, sharing their weekend, talking about what’s going on in their lives. You almost have to re-architect that. We will be returning to the offices and be more connected as the world opens up again. How are you valuing human connection in a new way and your team members getting together?

It has been a challenging year and we have been able to leverage technology to do things that we didn’t expect we could. For a long time, it helped make things feel better. The frequency we put into communication with our entire team helped create a little bit of that water cooler chat but not enough. We are now realizing that human connection is important. We are starting to ease our way back in. A funny anecdote but right before the pandemic, we bought a new building for our new corporate headquarters. We were so excited about it. We started to remodel it and we were going to have this current open space. The pandemic hit, we thought, “Maybe we should go close spaces and be careful about it.” It delayed our progress.

Being the overachievers that we are, we also leased out a big chunk of our space in our existing building. For the next 2 or 3 months, we were almost a homeless company, as weird as that seems. We are still finding our way back into it. We are bringing the senior team together once a week for our staff meetings. We are starting to bring the next level in the organization together and we are having a collaboration session every Wednesday where we can get together. It’s not forced and required but you are starting to see that people are feeling more comfortable, especially if they have been vaccinated, have their antibodies or whatever drives them. Pretty soon, in a few months, it’s all going to be starting to return back to work but it’s not going to be the same. It’s going to be different.

We have to recognize that working from home and having the flexibility to handle real situations in life is okay. We have learned that. At the same time, nothing replaces that human interaction that we are destined for. We are human beings. We love to spend time with each other and interact. It’s harder to do in a virtual setting. I have met a lot of new team members for the first time in person over the last few months. We have onboarded lots and lots of people. It’s funny when you walk in and you were like, “How are you?” You go through a little bit of that. We are all learning. That’s going to be the way that we are going to re-enter.

It’s interesting, even here in LA, at the beginning of the pandemic, you could drive anywhere. There was no traffic. I thought, “This is like living in another city.” LA is renowned for its traffic. Now, I see the roads filling up again. I can see the energy shifting. I’m curious, what do you think we should take with us and not lose? We had greater humanity by connecting and being aware of the shared adversity during the pandemic. There was more than one call that my dog popped up onto the screen. You realize that your child might be in the back. There are realizations and growth from this that we shouldn’t leave behind. We shouldn’t just pop back in the way it is. What do you think we should keep from what we learned from 2020 before we go right back in the hyperdrive?

Looking Back At 2020

We got to keep in mind the fact that we are all human and we are real. We deal with real things at home. If anything, this puts a microscope on what home life is like for different people. As leaders, you can’t leave it at home. It comes to work and opening up a deeper conversation within your workplace about what’s going on in life and the challenges that we faced over 2020 and then talking about the things that are going on in the world from here forward. Opening that dialogue is healthy. It’s even better if it’s face-to-face because sometimes behind email, texts and Zoom, you don’t get the body language aspect of it. It’s harder to have that conversation, so much of Zoom is scheduled. Our world is being scheduled. Maybe un-scheduling a little bit, having a little more of that water cooler conversation is important.

The great thing we have taken away is we recognize that we are all one and equal. We are all human beings and we have to respect each other in that manner that is expected of us and live our lives differently. It would be good to get everybody back together. We are going to eliminate some of those old cultural norms that say, “You shouldn’t or you can’t,” and incorporate you can as it relates to dealing with each other as humans.

It’s going to feel a little bit like a homecoming. You see someone, even though you may have seen them on a Zoom screen for a long time and you see them in person, it’s a different energy when we are able to connect, which is special. I want to ask you one more question, Charlie. You have been so generous with your time. I’m grateful. You have lived a remarkable life. Think about everything that you have done and all the experiences that you have had. Often, we think, “What could I tell my younger self? What could I tell someone who is coming up behind me about this journey called life?” I’m curious, you have already shared a lot of wisdom but do you have any other life lessons that you would share with the readers that could benefit them?

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership


One of the most valued experiences in my life has been raising four children. My youngest will graduate college this 2021. The other three have been married. I have one grandson. I have had a great career and still going. I have had a lot of experiences. I was having a reflective conversation with an old colleague of mine from days before. Take time to reflect back and recognize what got you there. Recognize the people who have inspired you. Reach out and connect with them. They would love to hear from you as much as you would love to hear from them. Invest that time. The world is so busy now. There are so much going on. We are so scheduled that it’s hard to find that moment of time but it’s important. The other thing is the virtue of patience. Early in our careers, we are hungry. We are trying so hard. Everything is a crisis. We got to move fast. There is a necessity to patience.

I used to read a book called Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to my children. I loved it because it said there are going to be ups and downs in life. They just happen. That’s natural. It happens in your career too. We may not always have a pandemic but you’re going to have your up years and down years. Being patient, sticking to the plan, knowing what got you there and where you need to go, not allowing yourself to be unnecessarily influenced by people who don’t know it as well as you do in your business and the people in your company is important. You ask anybody who’s worked with me a long time, I have gotten better over the years. I have never been noted as a patient person but it’s critical to your long-term success and in the latter part of your career as you are looking back.

As I was making notes on your wisdom, patience, connection, inspiration, understanding of the value of partnerships and relationships and people, these are powerful words of wisdom. They will be beneficial to everyone who is reading our conversation. Charlie, I want to thank you for taking the time because part of that leadership modeling is giving back to be in service to the collective. You are in service by being a leader that is not only modeling the type of cultural focus that we need to be, the value-based leadership that we need to see in the world but taking your time to share it with all of us. I want to thank you for doing that. I’m grateful.

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. I’m humbled by it. Thank you for all that you have done for us at Wingstop as well by way of Coca-Cola. I wish everyone great success. I look forward to a much better future than what we have dealt with in 2020.

May we all grow from everything we have experienced. Take the learnings and move forward better together.

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About Charlie Morrison

CMO Charlie | Value Based Leadership
Charlie Morrison is Chairman and CEO of Wingstop Inc., where he is responsible for leading the strategic direction of the Company and its global operations. Charlie is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience with various companies including Pizza Hut®, Steak and Ale® Restaurants, Kinko’s®, and Boston Market®. He joined Wingstop in June 2012.

In June of 2015, Charlie led Wingstop in the completion of its initial public offering, listing the company which has been noted as the most successful IPO in the history of the restaurant industry.

Charlie is a recipient of distinguished restaurant industry awards including the 2015 Golden Chain Award and the 2016 Silver Plate award.

He serves on the Board of Trustees of the KSU Foundation and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory board for the College of Business at Kansas State University, of which he is a graduate. He also serves as Board Chair of Cristo Rey Forth Worth High School.

Charlie and his wife Debbie are proud parents to four grown children and reside in Southlake, TX.


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