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From delivery driver to CEO: Meet the new Domino’s boss, David Burness

Domino’s stalwart David Burness heads up the Australian and New Zealand business. He stepped into the role just a few months ago, and brings an astonishing 30 years’ experience at the brand. 

David started as a delivery driver for then Silvio’s Dial-A-Pizza in 1991 while studying at university, and when the Domino’s brand was acquired became a franchise consultant. He was chief operating officer for Domino’s Netherlands in between two spells building multi-unit franchise businesses. Today with his wife Melissa, David owns seven stores on the Sunshine Coast.

The new role as CEO gives him a bigger platform to help build franchisee success.

He says “For more than 25 years I have opened stores here and in opportunity markets, served as a franchisee and an international operations manager, delivered high quality meals and served local community groups.

“But more importantly, I’m proudest that I’ve mentored and supported at least 10 store managers who have ultimately become successful franchisees themselves – providing opportunities to young people who are looking for a part-time job, or even a career, motivates me every day.”

IFB: How has your experience as a franchisee impacted your approach to business?

David: “One of the values at Domino’s is ‘do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do’; for me as a franchisee that really rang true.

“Once the community really trusts you and, and loves your business and loves your brand, then they repay you. But there’s got to be sincerity in what you do. You can’t fake that, you’ve got to do it because it’s really in your heart and in your own values.

“One of the things that I want to do in this role now is to try and help franchisees to achieve the same sort of success that I had in my business, from a sales and a profit point of view. 

“One of the beauties of franchising is that you are within a network of people who are doing the same thing as you, and there’ll always be somebody who’s executing something, some part of the business better than you are. So we really encourage franchisees to connect and find out who’s doing great things and try and copy each other. That’s one of the benefits of franchising.”

Domino’s ramped up its digital offerings during the pandemic. Image: Supplied.

IFB: What is interesting about Domino’s is that top leadership seems to come from within, so people are working their way up in the business.

David: “Yes, it’s a, it’s a path well worn within the company. The Australian business is owned by a company called Domino’s Pizza Enterprises (DPE) and DPE operates the Domino’s brand across 10 countries. Certainly within the DPE business, it’s very common that CEOs have come out of being a franchisee.

“DPE’s global CEO, Don Meij, started as a franchisee. And I think he understands that franchisees view the business in a certain way, because they’ve had to be entrepreneurial. And they are generally people who have been very customer focused at every level of the business. When we’re making customer centric decisions, our business goes a whole lot better. 

“And if you’ve been a successful franchisee and been able to grow your sales, you’ve generally shown that the way you approach the business is through a customer lens. As a business owner you bring a certain mindset with you and it’s important that mindset flows through to the top of the business.

IFB: So is business a mindset or can it be learned?

David: “I think it’s a little bit of both but it’s something that certainly can be learned. And I think that every individual should have a growth mindset, both for themselves, for their team and for their business. 

“I think those that go on to grow their business and take on bigger roles, they have got to be really committed to their own personal growth, and probably passionate about growing the abilities of those around them as well.

“I’ve always said that as franchisees we have a responsibility to grow other franchisees and pass on the opportunity that we were given. One of my philosophies in my business was that everybody’s responsibility is to make those around them better than them.”

IFB: So is managing really about coaching? Is that what leadership looks like?

David: “Yes, absolutely. In fact, if we could change the name on the badge to read coach instead of manager, I think that would be a better description of what a manager should be. I think at every level of leadership people should have a coaching mindset. 

‘There’s a couple of things that all leaders should have. They should be optimistic and enthusiastic about situations; always seeing where the chance is adds energy to those around you. 

“It will generally lift the group to see the situation the same way. So that optimism and that enthusiasm are really important in leadership.”

IFB: Business is never just an upward curve, there are always obstacles to overcome. What are your thoughts about overcoming adversity? 

David: “I heard a really good quote once from Winston Churchill; ‘if you are walking through hell, just keep walking’. So sometimes when you’re facing real adversity there can be a tendency to stop and wallow in how bad things are. But I’ve always found when dealing with adversity, the best thing is to do something. 

“And then quite often that one action will lead to another action. And before you know it, that one step has turned into five steps and then 10, and actually started a bit of momentum in what you’re trying to do.

“The most important thing to do is to take responsibility for the situation. And the benefit is then you are in control and that gives you that energy I was talking about.”

IFB: CEO Don Meij famously said that Domino’s is a technology company. How does that translate into business?

David: “Look, I’ve heard that quote that Domino’s is a technology company, and I’m not sure that Don actually said that. I think he said that we invest a lot in technology and it’ll be an important part of our business, and look, there’s no doubt that we were early innovators on a lot of technology and it never stops.

“There is always somebody else that’s looking to [develop] an app, particularly in the food delivery business. There have been a lot of people that have invested in technology over the last five years. If we are developing I think an important thing is to ask is what’s the benefit to the customer in doing this? And if it’s something that’s going to enhance the customer’s experience, then that’s good technology to be investing in.”

IFB: A recent industry analysis from IBISWorld has estimated Domino’s has 30 per cent market share. Is that now an unassailable position?

David: “I would never say that it’s unassailable because I was here when we were number three and we were a very distant number three. There was another brand that was a very dominant number one. And I think at the time that brand probably made the mistake of thinking that we were so small and they were so dominant that whatever we did we couldn’t close that gap.

“What we’ve learned is that even though we now are the number one brand, as far as market share goes, that it’s important that we always, you know, behave like a hungry number two.

“And that means just being fanatical about the customer. So anything we do, we need to make that decision through the lens of ‘is this good for the customer and will it make it easier for the customer? Does it give them great value?’ And, you know, we’ve got to continually be putting that message through the system. 

“Imagine if 20,000 people made every decision through the customer lens, well, our business will go well and we’ll probably have a large share of customer.”

IFB: Delivery has really come into its own in food service. Can we expect to see more developments from Domino’s?

David: “We talk about something called the age of delivery, that people would be looking for convenience as life gets busier, particularly in metro areas. In the last two years, with Covid, that age of delivery has probably come forward a little bit where people were forced to be at home. And I think that the market has understood that you can actually have a really good dining experience at home. 

“We’ve called ourselves the delivery experts for a long time and now a lot of people are trying to deliver, but delivery is hard. We have stores on average getting a delivery to the door in less than 20 minutes after the customer orders. Logistically, it’s hard to do that time and time again.

“We think delivery is where the future is and we’ll be continuing to find ways to make sure that we can do that faster than anyone else.”

This article was originally published in Inside Franchise magazine

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