When Wendy’s first came on the restaurant scene in Columbus, Ohio, in 1969, the company’s founder, Dave Thomas, focused on offering fresh hamburgers at a fair price in a comfortable setting. Today, these focuses remain, despite Wendy’s growing to a system of over 6,800 restaurants in 31 countries, most of which are owned by franchisees.

Extreme Green has been a pivotal part of the MBA program since 2013.

Recently, Wendy’s became the No. 2 QSR hamburger chain in the United States in terms of traffic share. As the quick service restaurant industry continues to navigate changes in customer demand, new food delivery options and competition, Wendy’s leaders recognize the opportunity for embracing new revenue streams while maintaining the brand’s equity in quality and innovation.

“While serving great-tasting food will always be the cornerstone of the Wendy’s value proposition, we continually look for opportunities to grow the brand and meet our customers where they want to be met,” Travis Martin (MBA ’18), brand manager of innovation at Wendy’s, said.

To further the company’s focus on growth strategies outside the four walls of its restaurants, Wendy’s joined forces with Michigan State University’s Broad College Full-Time MBA program for the 2021 Extreme Green Corporate Innovation event on March 3–5 — a recipe for success.

Extreme Green is an exclusive 12-day experience taught in three-day sprints on four occasions over the course of the MBA’s 21-month academic path. Students work in teams using design-thinking tools to propose solutions to business problems, supported by available evidence. They then pitch these ideas to corporate leaders at the end of each sprint. The course series has been a pivotal part of the program since 2013.

“With Extreme Green, we ask students to consider how they can be creative in a business context,” Full-Time MBA program director Wayne Hutchison said. “Oftentimes, we think the best solution is the first we pick. Through this curriculum, we ask students to use design thinking and ideation to consider alternatives.”

Shana Redd, professor of practice, added, “We tasked students with creating a sustainable business model that incorporates customer empathy, stakeholder empathy, marketing and sales components and financial modeling and valuation.” Redd serves as the faculty lead for the event each year, applying her own experience as an alumna of the MBA program and a former brand manager at Whirlpool.

This year, second-year MBA students gained insights through deep dives into the Wendy’s business model, stakeholder analyses, revenue and resources streams and other company data sources, all while engaging with Wendy’s leadership virtually. Teams worked to refine and develop their business ideas over 36 hours before pitching to Wendy’s executives and competing for fellowships.

The teams served up ideas to expand brand accessibility and engagement by looking at nontraditional growth opportunities and new revenue streams. The winning team, including Lea Mavar, Kaitlyn Hermes, Chelsi Riordan, Katherine Klein and Abigail Swanson, presented an opportunity for Wendy’s to further its footprint into the fuel industry while also incorporating a gamification component.

Zoom screenshot from Extreme Green, displaying a presentation slide and a judge.

Judges from Wendy’s, like Jacci Weber, were impressed with the Broad Spartans’ ideas.

“The growth opportunities are very real, and I think it’s very interesting as we think about the consumer and where we might overlap,” Melissa Cash, brand director of marketing and advertising at Wendy’s, said after hearing the team’s idea.

Jacci Weber (B.A. Communication, M.S. Marketing Research ’12), manager of consumer insights and brand licensing at Wendy’s, added, “It was very clear that you listened to our brand vision and stakeholder equity sessions by acknowledging that Wendy’s is a franchise system. It was creative that you came up with a way to bounce people back to Wendy’s restaurants and incorporated a profit-sharing model.”

“Our students’ advice has real-world stakes,” Hutchison said. “This is a big deal, asking our program to make a difference in the corporate space. The Wendy’s team has spent countless hours giving their time over the past few months.”

Redd echoed this sentiment and shared how involvement from Wendy’s leadership helped the event come together, especially from dedicated Broad alumni.

“You are a shining example of what ‘Spartans Will’ really means,” she said. “You have dedicated yourself to this program … which in turn elevates the Wendy’s brand in the Spartan mind and helps to elevate our brand at MSU and the Broad College.”

The top three teams walked away with not only fellowship awards but also a wealth of experience. The transferrable skillsets that students gain through Extreme Green courses relate to a host of corporate business challenges. Spartan MBAs will enter the business world with a solid understanding of how to analyze business problems, examining barriers and uncovering success drivers for stakeholders.