When the CEO who took over Burger King at 32 got the job, the first thing he did was learn to make hamburgers

Restaurant Brands International CEO Daniel Schwartz.

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Restaurant Brands International CEO Daniel Schwartz.
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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

  • As the CEO of Restaurant Brands International, Daniel Schwartz oversees Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes.
  • Schwartz started as CFO at Burger King in his late 20s before becoming CEO at 32.
  • He toured Burger King locations throughout the world to learn every aspect of the business, to better inform his decisions in his office.

When Daniel Schwartz became chief financial officer of Burger King in 2010, he was 29 years old and had previously only managed a single employee.

CFO was a job he could handle analytically, determining ways to make numbers work across the company. But when the brand’s owner, 3G Capital, promoted him to CEO a few years later, he became responsible for competing with an entire industry in which he had limited experience.

“So I think the key to at least my transition and other people’s transitions is that when you come into one of these roles, you have to kind of realize what you know and have a full appreciation,” he said in an episode of Business Insider’s podcastThis Is Success.” “And that comes back to humility of what you don’t know. And you have to be willing to ask a lot of questions, and realize that most of the people around you have all the answers and it’s on you to ask the smart questions.”

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As part of his education, he decided that leading up to his official first day as CEO, he would travel the world and visit Burger King locations and get behind the counter. He wasn’t going to be a CEO who lived in a headquarters bubble, treating his franchises as spreadsheet entries.

“I spent a bunch of time in restaurants for several weeks, and it just helped me learn more about the business,” he said. “And it’s important, it helps you stay close to what’s actually going on. You can lose sight of that if you’re just sitting in an office and working on PowerPoint and Excel as opposed to actually being in the restaurant.”

Another successful fast food CEO, Inspire Brands’ Paul Brown, went on a similar tour when he became the head of Arby’s. It’s an approach that both Brown and Schwartz believe allowed them to make more informed, and thus better, decisions for the future of their companies.

For Schwartz, that meant actually preparing hamburgers and other menu items. “My worst performance was making ice-cream cones. I was just, for whatever reason, never able to get the perfect swirl,” he said.

These visits led to Schwartz leading initiatives that revamped the look of restaurants, their ad campaigns, and their menus, allowing them to catch up with the competitors they had fallen behind. Burger King’s ensuing growth led to yet another promotion, to becoming head of a new umbrella company called Restaurant Brands International, which now includes Tim Hortons and Popeyes.

“I’m always spending time with our teams visiting restaurants because that’s where you learn the most about the business,” Schwartz said. “Talking to the franchise owners, talking to the folks working in restaurants.”

He still fondly remembers his time learning the ins and outs of Burger King, even if his ineptitude behind the counter created some difficulties. “Let’s just say if it was a busy day, the crew did not appreciate my presence in the restaurant,” he joked.

Subscribe to “This Is Success” on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. And listen to the full Daniel Schwartz episode below.