Influencers & Profiles

Don Meij on growing up in the pizza industry – and why Domino’s is not a technology company

Emma Koehn /

Don Meij is chief executive of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, the fast food company that wants to deliver your garlic bread via drone.

The good times have been rolling, with the company posting an $82 million profit in the 2016 financial year, along with a 33% jump in total sales to $1.96 billion, and its share price has seen a 91% gain in the past year. Analysts have lauded the chain as a new breed of tech company. But Meij insists that label is incorrect – the customer’s reaction to hunger is what drives the business.

Meij has worked in the world of pizza since uni, when he took up a job as a delivery driver; he tells us he’s eaten pizza every week since he started in the industry. SmartCompany spoke to him about how the image of the yacht-lounging chief executive is dead, and how to pick the next big thing in the world of fast food.

I’d stood on supermarket floors and done other jobs through uni, but there’s a novelty to the job of pizza delivery and it was much more enjoyable and fun.

I had an entrepreneurial streak in me young and I was very competitive. It was all about cause and effect.

When I started managing pizza stores, I was excited by how you could make things more profitable simply by working with a team.

I was studying teaching at the time but the effect you can have on students takes a lot longer to be realised. As a store manager you could influence more and find ways to strive to be better.

Managing franchises [before entering executive positions at Domino’s] means that you have a lot of empathy. It keeps you humble. One of the hardest things when you’ve only ever grown up on one side of the fence is not knowing the franchisee’s role in a business.

I’ve heard people call Domino’s a technology company. We’re not. We’re a food company. I spend most of my day looking at what the customer is telling me – and we make mistakes all day, every day.

Our one job is to smooth out the problems people have.

We’ve only had one bad quarter as a public company, in 2007. That experience taught us how to listen.

We were feeding a more and more narrow part of our customer base. We were introducing these “six, seven, eight meat” pizzas, and we found out that for a lot of customers, they thought “that sounds disgusting”.

We were becoming like a beer company with the triple cheese, eight meat pizzas. Food has to be right across the spectrum, and women in particular were rejecting Domino’s.

The big thing is we became arrogant.

We were successful, but we stumbled because we weren’t listening.

Domino’s was just one pizza store at one point, 50 something years ago. What it did well all that time ago was talking to customers about what works.

The most relief you’ll ever get in your life is when you admit that something is your problem. Admit the mistake, learn from it, move on.

Now, what the customer wants is what we’ll solve. We paint pictures with data and that’s how we’re inspired to do things.

A lot of businesses become process-driven. At Domino’s we used to use our intuition, now we’ve moved to data. A lot of businesses think of things to improve upon and then say, ‘no, well we just don’t work that way’. We go to work to solve the problems that the customer has.

People only order pizza once they’re already hungry. The quicker they get it, the happier they are.

The problem we have to solve is the tension and the anxiety of the wait. You’re get customers when they have three screaming kids and tension is rising. The importance of getting a fresh, hot pizza quickly – the immediacy of that experience – has always been there.

We’re in danger of becoming a renter society here in Australia, where all the tech giants are overseas. We’re motivated to be part of the ecosystem, of knowledge and technology and patenting of delivery tech.

A year is a very long time in the drone delivery space. These technologies are very important – it’s coming and it’s coming fast.

When you’re a younger business leader, you have this feeling that it’s about you and how you perform.

But actually, a good manager is a great influencer – someone who can get results out of the people that you have.

In the 80s, there were these images of chief executives on beaches and yachts, relaxed. A few years later they all went to jail.

You have to work hard to get results as a chief executive. The wolf at the front of the pack sets the pace.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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