By Caroline Brooks
Todd Penegor’s approach to running the third-largest quick-service hamburger company in the world isn’t a secret. In fact, the Wendy’s CEO and Broad College of Business alumnus frequently emphasizes the importance of bold dreams, teamwork, a winning attitude, and solid work ethic as the secret recipe throughout his career. On May 6, 2017, Penegor will return to his alma mater as the Broad College commencement speaker, where he will address the 1,070 graduating Spartans with inspiring words to take from their final day as undergraduates at Michigan State University.
“Life has a way of coming full circle. What you put out in the world will eventually come back to you,” Penegor says. “So, plant seeds early in your career that you will be happy to harvest for the rest of it,” he said. For Penegor, an Iron Mountain, Michigan native, this is especially true: the fast-food executive is the son of a Wendy’s franchisee, who instilled a “small business mindset,” while underscoring the critical importance of a strong work ethic. Today, Penegor still operates with this mindset – despite running a company with a global presence that has achieved $10 billion in system sales.
Penegor earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA in finance from the Broad College of Business. He began his career at Ford Motor Company, where he worked for 12 years in various roles, including corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions. Penegor transitioned into the food and beverage industry in 2000 with a move to the Kellogg Company in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he remained for 13 years. Penegor moved into his role as chief financial officer of Kellogg Europe before he was named president of Kellogg’s Snacks in 2008.
He joined The Wendy’s Company in 2013 as chief financial officer, and became chief executive officer in May 2016. He serves on the board of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, as well as the Dublin (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce. “The restaurant industry has provided me, and many others, with an abundance of opportunities, and I am very proud of working for an organization grounded in strong values that I believe in,” Penegor said. “My greatest career success has been leading the exceptional team at The Wendy’s Company as CEO, and I have no doubt that the education, training, and tools that Broad provided have set me up for success throughout my career,” he said.
While his career took him out of Michigan, Penegor keeps his finger on the pulse of Michigan State and the Broad College as an active alumnus and a member of the university’s Financial Advisory Board. “I have a great deal of respect for the deans and professors at Broad. I continue to keep in touch with many of them—they gave great guidance as a student and in taking the first steps on my career path,” Penegor said. As a result of Todd’s and his wife Jill’s gift of $250,000, the Broad College will name a large team room on the ground floor of the Pavilion in their honor.
While Penegor frequently speaks before the public, a packed Breslin Center audience presents a new set of opportunities. “I plan to share a few words of advice and encouragement – from one Spartan to another – as graduates embark on the next leg of their journey and chart their own career paths. They should be bold, take risks, and always be open to new opportunities. They never know what doors may open,” he said.