Cathy Tang Helps Yum! Brands Deliver a New Service Model

Cathy Tang and her team are navigating the fast-changing restaurant industry to make it easier for customers to experience Yum! Brands

Cathy Tang, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Yum! Brands

Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut—the subsidiaries of Yum! Brands are all household names across the US and around the world, and a superior end-to-end customer experience is crucial to maintaining their brand reputations. The Fortune 500 company is therefore looking to Cathy Tang and her legal team, among others, to keep pace with the ever-changing trends in the quick-service restaurant industry.

“Delivery is a big disruptor in our business today,” says Tang, the company’s vice president and associate general counsel. “The way people eat today is very different than the way people were eating twenty years ago.”

With the rapid rise of delivery aggregators such as Grubhub, UberEats, and DoorDash, customers expect even greater convenience when it comes to eating restaurant food. Yum! Brands recognizes this and is responding to this customer expectation by implementing a long-term strategy to make its brands easier for customers to access. “Consumers today choose not only what they want to eat but also when and where they want to eat it,” Tang says.

Food delivery has its challenges, which is why Grubhub—with its ordering platform, its delivery logistics, and its point-of-sale integrations—is a logical national partner that will help Yum! Brands drive incremental sales to KFC and Taco Bell restaurants in the US through online ordering for pickup and delivery. “Grubhub has the largest network of diners across the United States, and we felt it had the strongest capability and commitment to drive a superior customer experience and incremental sales for KFC and Taco Bell,” Tang says.

The strategic partnership with Grubhub will expand delivery capability and coverage for KFC and Taco Bell, making them even easier for consumers to access. “Delivery is a choice consumers make for convenience, so the end-to-end customer experience has to be stellar—from the ease of ordering and paying to delivery time to food quality,” Tang says.

Tang aims to replicate this US success with more local and regional partnerships around the globe, but to do so she must solve what she describes as a “Rubik’s cube” of customer data-privacy and operational considerations. She and the rest of the Yum! Brands legal team are well versed in adapting to evolving business environments, though. Since its spin-off from PepsiCo in 1997, Yum! Brands has established itself as a global powerhouse, growing its profits outside the US from 20 percent to almost 50 percent, as of 2017—while remaining an industry leader in return on invested capital. The company currently has more than 45,000 restaurants in more than 135 countries and territories.

In October 2016, Yum! Brands embarked on a multiyear transformation journey that began with the spin-off of its business in China and the implementation of a growth strategy to become more focused, franchised, and efficient. As of the end of 2017, 97 percent of its restaurants were franchise owned, and as of press time, at least 98 percent were to be franchised by the end of 2018. That’s why Tang and her team are even more focused on global brand protection and helping to redefine how the franchisor interacts with its franchisees, including how to work with delivery aggregators.

“It’s a nuanced, complex relationship that is in some ways more challenging as a brand owner because you’re relying on someone else to deliver the customer experience and to protect the reputation of our brands,” Tang says. “We have to lead and influence franchisees by providing practical, efficient systems and driving a culture that fuels the ultimate brand experience.”

Tang is just the leader to help facilitate Yum! Brands’ transformation, having had a career defined by adaptability and agility. She started as a litigator with Stites & Harbison, in Louisville, after earning a BA in economics from the University of Texas–Austin and a JD from the University of Louisville. She then joined PepsiCo (when it still owned KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell), where she cut her teeth as a marketing, advertising, and franchising lawyer for KFC. She also worked for PepsiCo in England, negotiating new franchise deals in Western Europe, Israel, and the former Czechoslovakia. She credits the multinational giant with helping her develop her cultural dexterity early on in her career. “It was a huge growth experience because I’d never lived outside the US before that,” Tang says. “It taught me a lot about the global economy that we live in and really stretched me beyond my comfort zone, both professionally and personally.”

In 1998, she joined Dell and spent four years as senior counsel for the computer technology giant. There, she found herself in a completely new industry, and she says that adapting to the new business environment sharpened her skills as a business lawyer and again pushed her beyond her comfort zone. “By then, I knew I could jump into anything—even if I wasn’t familiar with it—learn it, and solve it,” Tang says. “I was able to anchor myself in the areas most familiar to me, but I also learned how to expand that base and apply what I learned in different ways.” For Dell, she struck strategic partnerships with the era’s power players, including AOL and Microsoft/MSN, and her forward-thinking approach to the deals tapped into trends that would later prove essential to support Yum! Brands’ evolution.

She returned to Yum! in 2002, helping to guide the Pizza Hut business while overseeing Yum!’s intellectual property globally. Then, in 2009, Tang was promoted to the position of chief legal officer of KFC—the first woman general counsel for a Yum! Brands division—and she says that’s where she earned her final stripes as a business lawyer. She shepherded the brand through intense litigation with its franchisees and then later struck a groundbreaking deal with the same franchisees to turn around KFC’s US business.

“I’m proud of the path I’ve paved at Yum!—today, the general counsel for all three US divisions are women,” Tang says. “It’s been fun to see the women in our organization not only succeed but be recognized and elevated.”

Tang herself took on a new challenge in 2015, when she served in a newly created business role as chief new business development officer for KFC Global. Then, in January 2017, she rang in the new year at Yum! Brands as vice president and associate general counsel, tasked with leading a new global brand-protection function. Today, she continues to serve the fast-food juggernaut in that capacity, as the guardian of its dynamic brands around the world.