Managing Director Pizza Hut India & Former CEO Domino's, Indonesia
Merrill has over 32 years experience in the QSR industry and is the Managing Director of Pizza Hut, part of the YUM! Brands system, where he is responsible for managing the 550 stores in the country. Merrill started his career on the counter in McDonald’s in Melbourne and worked his way up the company to eventually manage Australia and the South Pacific region. Merrill was the CEO of Domino’s in Indonesia for three years before joining Pizza Hut India in 2019. Read more
Merrill, can you provide a short introduction to your background in the pizza industry?
I’ve been in the quick service restaurant space for close to 32 years. I started my career in 1987, working from the bottom, on the front counter at McDonald’s, in Melbourne, Australia. I worked my way up to being the regional head for Asia. I started my career in 1987 and I was with McDonald’s for 23 years. In 23 years, I spent time with McDonald’s in more than 18 geographies, from Australia, to the South Pacific. I also opened the Middle East for the McDonald’s company and, as I mentioned earlier, I was the regional head for Asia.
In 2010, I decided to part with McDonald’s. I took a year off and, in that year, I went and studied at Wharton and did my Advanced Management Program. At the same time, I wrote a book called Expand Your Brand, which is about what I did at McDonald’s for 23 years, going into new countries and developing the brand.
Following that, I was then the CEO of Domino’s, in Indonesia. I was there for three years and I was part of a team that was responsible for the turnaround of Domino’s in Indonesia. In 2016, I was approached by the largest franchisor of Yum! Brands, which was KFC and Pizza Hut, to move to Malaysia and run their company, as the managing director. The QSR company in Malaysia owns the rights to Pizza Hut and KFC in four countries, being Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Cambodia. The total number of restaurants was 1,400. I ran that business for three years and then Yum! approached me and asked me to join them in taking over the Pizza Hut business in the Indian subcontinent.
Currently, I manage four countries, which are India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. I manage these countries and the total number of restaurants in this space is about 550. In the next three years, we intend to double the numbers in the region. In a nutshell, that’s my experience with fast food or quick service restaurants. Since 2013, I’ve been working with the two leading brands for pizza.
How does the consumer perception of pizza in India compare to other countries in South East Asia?
The benefit of the pizza business in India is that Pizza Hut has been in India for close to 20 years. For the last 13 years of that, it has been given the award as one of the most trusted brands in the quick service restaurant business, in India. Also, in terms of the competition for pizzas in India, we are the number two player. The number one player is Domino’s and they have nearly three times the number of restaurants that we have there. The biggest plus point for that is that there are plenty of opportunities for us to grow but also, in India, the idea of pizza is very common. It is not like in other parts of Asia where you have to explain to them what a pizza is all about. In India, it’s a very common word. In fact, in lockdown, there was a survey that asked people, in India, what would be the first thing you will do when lockdown is over. The number one answer was, we want to have pizza and biryani, which is an Indian rice and protein mixed dish.
The good thing about this is that the pizza business, the pizza name, in India, is well-known and it’s well accepted by the people all over the country. If you went into another geography, such as Vietnam or another part of Asia, you’ve got to spend a lot of time on educating the consumer on what a pizza actually is.
Do the Indian consumers not have a similar aversion to dairy products like the Chinese consumer would?
The consumers vary. In some countries around the world, pizza is looked upon as a very up-market product, so it’s an affluent thing; middle class, higher middle class and above, would be used to pizza. If you went into second and third tier cities in Asia, people would still not understand that concept of what a pizza is all about. The blessing of pizza in India is that it has been around for a long, long time.