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Will Kussell

Case Studies


Will Kussell works with our Retail, Consumer & Leisure team, helping to build brands and drive organic growth in the restaurant and retail space. Will has worked on two US investments, Bojangles’ and Amscan/Party City.

“After meeting with several private equity firms, I chose Advent due to its long-term success, collegial culture and the opportunity to help initiate restaurant deals”
Will Kussell

Summary

Will Kussell has more than 25 years of experience in the retail sector, including serving as President and Chief Brand Officer of Dunkin’ Donuts and Chief Operating Officer of Dunkin’ Brands Worldwide, overseeing domestic and international operations, marketing, franchising and new business initiatives. During his tenure, Will transformed Dunkin’ Donuts from a regional donut chain into a leading coffee and baked goods brand worldwide, and launched the successful “America Runs on Dunkin’” marketing campaign. Previously, during a five-year stint at Reebok, Will launched the “pump” basketball shoe that successfully repositioned the brand into the sports performance area, led Fitness division marketing worldwide, and ultimately oversaw U.S. marketing for the entire Reebok brand.

How would you describe your business philosophy?

My business philosophy, roughly speaking, is built upon three pillars. First, I believe you need to have a differentiated and compelling brand positioning and a clear, powerful, and overarching value proposition. Second, you need to surround yourself with passionate, team-oriented leaders who share your vision and are willing to take the hill with you. Third, you need insight into the market – to see opportunities and go after them aggressively while taking prudent risks.

How did you first become involved with Advent?

My initial contact with Advent was through one of its managing partners: our sons played summer baseball together. When we met in 2005, Dunkin’ Brands had just been sold to a private equity group. We knew a lot of the same people in the private equity world, and Advent was familiar with the company.

Describe your role as an Advent operating partner.

One great thing about Advent is its commitment to the operating partner group as a competitive differentiator. There is no single role for operating partners: it really is specific to the case and the opportunity. The role can range from helping to source the opportunity, to due diligence, to closing the deal. Then, after the deal is closed, an operating partner can take on a number of roles, from non-executive chairman, to chairman, to CEO, to board member or advisor – either on an ongoing basis or during the transition period.

In my own case, soon after I joined the firm I got involved in the sourcing and due diligence work at Bojangles’, a quick-serve restaurant chain that Advent acquired from another private equity firm in mid-2011. Now I serve as lead director of the board and as a hands-on strategic advisor to the management team.

With which Advent investments are you involved? In what role?

My main involvement with Advent is with Bojangles’, where we are working with the management team on a growth plan that aims for faster growth through expansion into new markets. I also serve on the board of Amscan/Party City.

I work two days a week with the Bojangles’ management team and have gotten to know all of the senior leaders well. We have a great complementary relationship: they run the business and execute very well, and I challenge them to take a longer-term, more externally-focused orientation. Our first task was to complete a deep analytical dive into the marketplace, with support from a management consulting firm. Out of that came several key strategic initiatives around which we’ve built an action plan for the next 18 months to three years.

What has been your greatest challenge?

My biggest challenge was in my first 12 to 18 months. I had always been on the operating side of a business, so private equity was a new experience for me. I had to learn the rhythm and processes of Advent – how the firm sources deals, reviews deals, does due diligence.

In addition to learning the processes, another adjustment was adapting to the pace--moving from a fast-paced leadership position in a large, dynamic company to more of an advisory role. There’s an ebb and flow you need to get used to: sometimes you’re working on a deal and it’s crazy, and other times you’re in a quiet period.

My natural tendency in the past was to move fast on things that I believed in. If I thought that something could add value to the business quickly, I pounced on it. Now, I have to appreciate that I am not the CEO. I have a great relationship with the Bojangles’ CEO though, and we are getting things done quickly.

What have you enjoyed most as an Advent operating partner?

Working with Bojangles’ has been a fabulous experience. What I am doing is right in my core competencies  brand building, organic growth, mentoring talent, and strategic thinking. It is a wonderful position to be able to complement my skills with those of the management team and Advent. I feel like I’m part of a powerful, winning team, one that has both breadth and depth of resources. I love my role now.

When I describe my Advent experience to friends and family, I say I feel like I’m a part of the A-team. The firm’s track record of performance is quantitative. There’s also a qualitative, cultural dimension too. At Advent, you’re working with talented people that are humble and certainly not complacent.

What advice would you offer someone thinking about becoming an Advent operating partner?

Build relationships! I have come to appreciate that Advent works hard at associating itself with high-quality people and companies. It has a strong ecosystem of executives, banks, advisors, consultants, etc. If you come to Advent with strong relationships, you can accelerate this effort.

What does it take to be an effective Advent operating partner?

You have to be ready to think along new lines with regard to cash flow and investment. Those who come from public companies are likely used to the pressure of delivering quarterly earnings and trying not to be too disruptive with ramping up investments that don’t have a 90-day payback. In private equity, you typically operate under a hold period of up to five years and occasionally more, and that gives you much more time to focus on organic growth. At Advent, the first year is spent analyzing what you have, developing strategic initiatives, and then ensuring you have the people, processes, and systems in place to execute against your plan. To be an effective operating partner, you have to be comfortable with this timeframe and this mode of thinking. It’s quite different from what many people are used to.

Why do you choose to work with Advent?

Before joining Advent, I talked with a lot of people in the private equity world, and several themes emerged from these discussions. First, make sure you like the people you’ll be working with. Second, understand their track record of performance. Third, get clear on what you’re going to be doing – sourcing deals, closing deals, and/or working with the business after the deal – and make sure your skills match this role. Lastly, try to understand the time commitment.

I used these criteria when I thought about joining Advent, and Advent encouraged me to spend extended periods of time with senior management and other people I’d be working with. I liked the culture, and the opportunity to head up the restaurant area was exciting and very appealing to me. The more I considered it, the more I realized that Advent met the all criteria that I had set.

Contacts


Conor Boden

Head of Portfolio Board Development, UK

T: +44 (0) 20 7333 0800
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