Emil Brolick: A cut above

When Emil Brolick enrolled at the University of Detroit in the late 1960s, he thought he wanted to go into law.

A few early economics courses changed his mind, and by the time he graduated from Detroit with a master’s in economics in 1972, he knew he wanted to apply his degree in a practical business environment.

Forty years later, he’s had many such opportunities – but none quite as grand as his new job as president and CEO of Wendy’s. Brolick took over the top spot at the popular fast food chain Sept. 12.

But despite the whirlwind that has followed the announcement, he still found time last week to fondly recall his days at McNichols and Livernois.

"The student body was very friendly," he said. "I still feel an attachment to the school. I’m proud to have graduated from the University of Detroit."

Brolick said he always felt "very comfortable" at U of D (one of UDM’s predecessors) because of the diverse student body and the strong presence of the Catholic faith. The scenery was also nice, he said.

"I always liked the campus," he said. "Fall and spring were always beautiful."

Those memories include times in the dorms. He lived on campus until his junior year.

"They were a lot of fun and enjoyable times," he said. "There was always the challenge of studying in the dorms, but you could always find time to go to the library and some place quiet."

He said it was beneficial to him.

"Dorm life is an important part of college," he said. "It’s part of your growing and maturing. You have to learn that you need to get along and connect with people and I think that’s a very important part of your development."

Economics were "far and away my favorite classes," he said. "I really gained an appreciation for trying to understand consumers and why consumers did what they did and purchased what they did."

After working as a financial analyst with Chrysler, an opportunity to join the Ponderosa Steakhouse organization arrived. The switch from the manufacturing industry to the service industry was a big, but necessary, change, he said.

"The opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it," he said. "Your career is less of a science as it is an art. Sometimes you have to do things that your instincts tell you are the right things to do."

Brolick worked at Wendy’s from 1988-2000 and said his first stint with the company probably put him at the top of the list when the search for a new CEO began.

"I established a strong track record within the organization," he said.

During his early days at Wendy’s, Brolick worked with founder and iconic figure Dave Thomas.

Although Thomas died in 2002, his legacy lives on, Brolick said.

"He was a very special human being," he said. "He had a tremendous sense of consumers and he had great instincts. He really wanted to create a brand that was a cut above; he did that. That thought still guides us today."

Brolick said that he knows what he wants his legacy to be.

"I’m a huge believer in people," he said. "I believe people are the greatest asset a corporation has. I’d like my legacy to be about people."