Jonathan Blum has spent nearly 20 years with Yum Brands' restaurants. With brands including KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, it is the largest restaurant company, outnumbering McDonald's locations.
As SVP of public affairs for the past 11 years, Blum oversees health and nutrition public policy, lobbying, government affairs, diversity, CSR, and crisis management for the Louisville, KY-based, $10.4 billion company whose other restaurants are A&W and Long John Silver's.
As much of the country aims to become more health-conscious, Yum Brands' restaurants intend to be in front of that conversation. Blum is helping to lead that effort.
Just in time for New Year's, Yum launched a “Keep it Balanced” Web site, which offers healthy eating tips, including lower-calorie options at its chains. At the same time, it gave patrons a one-month free pass to online fitness program eFitforMe.
“There's been a global debate with health and nutrition,” he notes. “We're always listening and responding to the customer... They want greater choices and variety. We feel we have a responsibility to maintain a balanced lifestyle.”
Yum also began posting calorie information in all company-owned restaurants last year, and expects to complete the effort by 2011. This move was made after the passage of a California law requiring caloric disclosure at chain restaurants. Yum collaborated with the California Restaurant Association on the issue.
Blum is a high-energy, “out-of-the-box creative thinker,” and “risk-taker,” says KFC's senior PR director Laurie Schalow, who has worked with him for more than a decade.
“It's not unusual for him to pick up the phone at 10pm and say, ‘I've got a great idea,'” she says. “He's always thinking about ways to generate news for our brands.”
Blum's history with the company began as VP of public affairs at Taco Bell. When Pepsi spun off its restaurant divisions in 1997 into what became Yum Brands, Blum was chosen by David Novak, the new company's CEO, who was CEO of Pizza Hut and KFC at the time, to come to the corporate entity. Blum reports directly to Novak.
Blum's efforts are buoyed by the confidence he has in Yum's “recession-resistant” model. “People will always have to eat [and] we're continuing to perform,” he explains.
Challenges remain, of course. One of his biggest ones will be “retaining and recruiting top talent” for his 65-person public affairs staff. “I look for people who are both strategic and creative,” he says.
Blum has true passion for all Yum Brands – “I have taco sauce in my veins,” he says – but gets most animated when discussing its corporate giving. He helped bring its first corporate responsibility report to fruition in December 2008. A big highlight in it is Yum's World Hunger Relief program, which has raised more than $35 million and donated 9 million staff volunteer hours over the past two years for the UN's World Food Programme and other hunger relief agencies.
Blum says he was inspired to implement the program after he, Novak, and other senior leaders visited Sudan, Guatemala, and Haiti with the World Food Program.
“He's spent countless hours bringing that program to life,” Schalow says. “He feels obligated to give.”
SVP, public affairs, Yum Brands
June 1993-October 1997
VP, public affairs, Taco Bell
MD, Ogilvy & Mather PR,
Hong Kong, China; regional director, public affairs