【英语中国】食品安全危机考验肯德基中国掌门 KFC’s Crisis in China Tests Ingenuity of Man Who Built Brand

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2014-1-13 18:16

小艾摘要: Sam Su for years ran one of the highest-flying foreign business operations in China. These days, he's trying to pull it out of a tailspin.As China head for Yum Brands Inc. for the past 16 years, Mr. S ...
KFC's Crisis in China Tests Ingenuity of Man Who Built Brand
Sam Su for years ran one of the highest-flying foreign business operations in China. These days, he's trying to pull it out of a tailspin.

As China head for Yum Brands Inc. for the past 16 years, Mr. Su built its KFC arm into the biggest foreign restaurant chain -- and one of the most successful foreign brands -- in the world's most populous market. Yum has more than 6,000 restaurants in China, including Pizza Huts and other, smaller brands -- about three times as many as rival McDonald's Corp.

Mr. Su's efforts helped make China Yum's biggest source of profit, and earned him promotion to company vice chairman.

That achievement is under threat from a persistent public backlash over the reported use of growth hormones and antibiotics by two KFC chicken suppliers. The backlash is expected to push Yum's China annual same-store sales down for the first time at least since Yum started breaking out China in financial reports in 2005.

Yum is scheduled to report full-year numbers Monday, but same-store sales in China through November fell 16%.

More than a year into the crisis, Yum is still struggling. Now Mr. Su and Chief Executive David Novak say the Louisville, Ky., company can turn things around in 2014, vowing that new menu items and digital-media initiatives will revive the brand in China. 'I fully expect a strong comeback year,' Mr. Su said in a rare interview last month.

Some investors are getting restless. Yum's shares -- which had been propelled for years by its China growth -- are up only 12% since late November 2012, when Chinese state media started reporting on food-safety concerns surrounding KFC suppliers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 26% in that period.

'If things don't turn around, he'll be gone,' said John Kornitzer, CEO of Kornitzer Capital Management Inc., which now holds more than 27,000 Yum shares, down from more than 92,000 a year ago. 'I'd give him a year or two.'

Yum's woes began with a Chinese media report in November 2012 alleging that a KFC supplier had been using growth hormones and antibiotics to help chickens grow faster. The claims, which quickly spread online, tapped into widespread consumer fright in China over food safety.

Government officials investigated, and recommended Yum strengthen its poultry-supply-chain practices, which Yum says it has done.

On top of the fears was a sense among some Chinese consumers that Yum had lost its allure. Yum executives acknowledge that they did too little in recent years to jazz up KFC's China menus, and that they misjudged how stubborn the food-safety concerns would be.

Mr. Su says an avian-flu outbreak last spring prolonged the sales slump.

'For several months, a lot of people stopped eating chicken and a lot of places stopped serving chicken. We were one of the few restaurants that still had chicken on the menu,' Mr. Su said of the avian-flu outbreak. 'That's one of the reasons we hadn't seen as quick a recovery as we would have liked.'

The crisis is testing the ingenuity and determination that current and former colleagues say helped make the 61-year-old Taiwan native a success since he joined Yum as a regional marketing director in 1989, when the chain operated four KFCs in China.

Don Mulligan, chief financial officer at General Mills Inc., noticed that Mr. Su was willing to challenge convention when the two worked together in the 1990s. At one point Mr. Su called the treasurer of PepsiCo Inc., then Yum's parent company, to question a calculation Pepsi had made about risk in China that would have limited Yum's ability to expand there.

'He won the day,' recalls Mr. Mulligan, who worked then in Pepsi's finance team in Hong Kong. 'It was very impressive. At the time he was much more junior in the Pepsi hierarchy.'

In 1997, the year Pepsi spun off Yum, Mr. Su was made the restaurant company's China president. To expand KFC, he enticed China's burgeoning middle class by pairing relatively inexpensive American-style chicken with Chinese additions to the menu like rice and soy milk.

For restaurant managers, Mr. Su -- who earned an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School -- hired only college graduates. He required them to undergo four years of on-the-job training in a program Yum refers to as Whampoa Academy, named for the famed Chinese military academy.

He rewarded successful employees with an annual 'clock builder award,' inspired by the management book 'Built to Last,' about companies that succeed beyond the tenure of any single leader or product. Mr. Su gave winners a Rolex watch.

When employees came up short, he let them know. Around five years ago, Mr. Su saw that Chinese consumers were losing interest in Pizza Hut. 'What do Chinese diners really want?' he asked his marketing team at a strategy meeting. When some employees gave answers he deemed insufficiently thorough, Mr. Su reacted angrily, raising his voice and demanding immediate answers, recalled a person who worked with Mr. Su at the time.

He made the team develop dishes that would include everything from pasta to rice in order to please an entire Chinese family, and demanded that the food-innovation team refresh at least half the menu every year, this person said.

The Pizza Hut business has since rebounded in China, posting 5% same-store sales growth in the third quarter of last year.

Mr. Su's promotion to vice chairman in 2008 made him Yum's No. 2 leader -- an unusual status for a regional chief in a major multinational. Still, he and his wife, president of Gucci's China business, keep a low profile in China. He likes to play golf-often with Mr. Novak -- but says he spends most of his time working. He acknowledges that his style can seem harsh. 'I'm very serious -- a business first, brand first kind of person. Sometimes I'm not as sensitive,' Mr. Su said.

The current struggle is more vexing than previous stumbles. SARS in 2003 and an avian flu outbreak the following year hurt KFC sales. In 2005, KFC pulled several items from its menus after discovering that some of its chicken seasoning contained a carcinogenic dye.

Each time, Yum rebounded quickly and kept growing, eventually reaching nearly 1,000 Chinese cities. China sales rose 24% to $6.9 billion in 2012, and Mr. Su was Yum's highest compensated executive that year. He received a total of $16.6 million in 2012, compared with $14.2 million for Mr. Novak, the CEO.

Messrs. Su and Novak have given scant detail about their plans this year to revive KFC's China sales and modernize the brand. The company has already started some measures, such as an advertising and social-media blitz labeled 'I commit' in which employees and suppliers proclaim that KFC is safe.

'The pressure we put on ourselves exceeds anything we could ever get from any shareholder,' says Mr. Novak. 'But we do have a mind-set in this company that you have to earn the right to keep your job, and that starts with me and with Sam.'

'How 2014 will unfold, I don't know,' says Mr. Su. 'What I do know is we've done a lot of work.'

多年来,苏敬轼(Sam Su)经营的肯德基(KFC)中国业务一直是这个国家增长最快的外资企业之一。但现在他正努力将肯德基从螺旋式滑坡的困境中拯救出来。

过去16年中,中国业务一直在百胜餐饮集团(Yum Brands Inc., YUM)的业务中独占鳌头,苏敬轼也将肯德基建成了中国最大的外资连锁餐饮企业,以及在这个全球人口最多的市场最成功的外资品牌之一。包括必胜客(Pizza Huts)和其他较小的品牌在内,百胜在中国拥有超过6,000家餐厅,数量是对手麦当劳(McDonald's Co., MCD)的三倍左右。

苏敬轼的努力使中国市场成为百胜最大的利润来源,也使自己升任为公司副董事长。

但有关两家肯德基鸡肉供应商使用生长激素和抗生素的报道引发了公众持续的强烈反应,令苏敬轼的成就受到了威胁。受此影响,预计百胜中国同店销售额将首次出现同比下降,至少是百胜2005年财报将中国市场单独列出以来的首次下降。

百胜餐饮集团定于周一公布全年业绩,但截至去年11月中国同店销售额已经下降了16%。

危机已经持续了一年多,百胜仍在挣扎。苏敬轼和首席执行长戴维•诺瓦克(David Novak)称,这家位于肯塔基州路易斯维尔市的企业2014年能够扭转逆境,并称新菜式和数字媒体项目将在中国市场重振品牌。苏敬轼在上个月接受不多见的采访时称,他完全相信今年的形势将会大幅改善。

但一些投资者开始烦躁不安。尽管百胜股价多年来一直受到中国业务增长的提振,但自从2012年11月末中国国有媒体开始报道肯德基供应商的食品安全问题以来,百胜的股价仅上涨了12%,而同期道琼斯工业股票平均价格指数上涨了26%。

Kornitzer Capital Management首席执行长科尔尼采尔(John Kornitzer)说,如果情况无法好转,苏敬轼将走人。该公司目前持有逾27,000股百胜股票,低于一年前的逾92,000股。科尔尼采尔称,他愿意给苏敬轼一两年的时间。

百胜的危机始于2012年11月中国媒体的一则报道,该报道指称肯德基供应商使用生长激素和抗生素以加快肉鸡成长。这篇报道迅速在网络上传播,加剧了中国消费者对食品安全问题的广泛担忧。

政府官员对此进行了调查,并建议百胜加强其禽类供应链的管理。百胜餐饮表示,已经对供应链进行了必要调整。

除了食品安全担忧以外,一些中国消费者也认为百胜已丧失其吸引力。百胜的管理人士承认,最近几年他们在更新肯德基中国菜单方面下的功夫太少,也误判了食品安全问题有多么棘手。

苏敬轼说,去年春天爆发的禽流感延长了肯德基销售的滑坡势头。

他表示,受禽流感影响,很多人有好几个月都不吃鸡肉,许多餐厅也停止供应鸡肉类菜品。当时,肯德基是为数不多的几家菜单上仍有鸡肉的商家。这也是肯德基的复苏速度没有达到我们期望的原因之一。

食品安全危机让苏敬轼的创造力和决断力受到了考验。肯德基的许多现有员工和前员工说,正是这种创造力和决断力让现年61岁的台湾人苏敬轼在1989年加入百胜出任地区营销总监后取得了一系列的成功。1989年时,肯德基在中国大陆只有四家门店。

通用磨坊(General Mills Inc., GIS)首席财务长穆里根(Don Mulligan)说,他与苏敬轼曾在20世纪90年代共过事,苏敬轼给他的印象是愿意挑战传统。曾经有一次苏敬轼打电话给当时百胜的母公司百事公司(PepsiCo Inc., PEP)的司库,质疑百事对中国风险的计算会限制百胜在中国市场扩张的能力。

穆里根说,苏敬轼赢了,他说的话给人留下非常深刻的印象。那时候苏敬轼在百事内部还只是职位比较低的职员。当时穆里根是百事香港财务团队中的一员。

1997年百事剥离百胜,苏敬轼当上了百胜中国区总裁。为了扩张肯德基业务,他开始在菜单中走混搭路线,在相对便宜的美式炸鸡之外,加入米饭、豆浆等中式产品。

拥有宾夕法尼亚大学(University of Pennsylvania)沃顿商学院(Wharton School) MBA学位的苏敬轼在招聘餐厅经理时,只选择大学毕业生。苏敬轼要求他们参加一项被百胜称作“黄埔军校”(Whampoa Academy)的四年在职培训计划。黄埔军校是中国历史上非常有名的一所军事院校。

受到企业管理书籍《基业长青》(Built to Last)的?发,他授予成功的雇员年度“造钟者奖”。苏敬轼奖励获得这一奖项的雇员一块劳力士手表。《基业长青》研究的是那些超越某个领袖或某个产品的一时辉煌而取得长久成功的企业。

当雇员存在不足,苏敬轼会让他们知道。据一位五年前曾与苏敬轼共事的人讲,当时苏敬轼看到中国消费者对必胜客渐渐失去了兴趣,他在战略会议上向他的营销团队提出一个问题:中国食客真正想要的是什么?当一些雇员给出了他认为不够透彻的答案时,他发火了,提高了嗓门,并要求马上找出答案。

这人称,为了满足中国家庭所有成员的口味,他让团队研发出了包括意大利面和米饭等各种食物的菜单,并要求食品创新团队每年至少更新菜单上的一半产品。

此后必胜客在中国的业务实现反弹,该品牌去年第三季度同店销售额增长了5%。

2008年苏敬轼被提升为副董事长,成为百胜的二号人物,这对一家大型跨国公司的地区主管来说是一个非同寻常的身份。但他和他担任古驰(Gucci)中国区总裁的妻子在中国依然很低调。他喜欢高尔夫球,经常和诺瓦克一起打高尔夫,但表示他大部分时间都用来工作。他承认他的管理方式可能看起来很严厉,他说:“我很严肃,是那种生意优先、品牌优先的人,有时候我不是个感性的人。”

但肯德基目前的困境比以往遇到的麻烦更让人烦恼。2003年的SARS以及随后一年禽流感的爆发拖累了肯德基的销售额。2005年肯德基从其菜单上撤销了几样产品,原因是发现一些鸡肉作料包含致癌染料。

但以往每次遭遇困境百胜总能迅速反弹并继续增长,最终扩张到了中国近1,000座城市。2012年百胜中国销售额增长24%,达到69亿美元,苏敬轼也成为当年百胜薪酬最高的高管,他当年的薪酬总计为1,660万美元,超过了首席执行长诺瓦克的1,420亿美元。

关于今年重振肯德基中国销售额及促进品牌现代化的计划,苏敬轼和诺瓦克并没有透露很多。该公司已经开始采取一些措施,例如名为“我承诺”的广告和社交媒体闪电战,雇员和供应商在其中宣称肯德基的食品是安全的。

诺瓦克称:“我们施加给自己的压力超过任何股东给我们的压力,公司中所有人都有一个理念:你必须努力才能保有你的工作,而这首先从我和苏敬轼开始。”

苏敬轼说:“2014年会怎样我无从得知,但我所知道的是,我们已经做了很多工作。”

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