With a bachelor’s degree in finance in hand, Jose Almirall began his career with AT&T in heavily analytical roles, eventually leaving the company to pursue an MBA at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Upon graduating, he made his way to IBM in yet another highly analytical role and though he enjoyed the work, he felt removed from the action. “With 400,000 employees, IBM just felt too big to make a real, tangible impact. Also, as I came to find out, the technology sector wasn’t really my calling.” In 2008, Almirall and his wife were on the move to Florida, where they wanted to settle to be closer to family. When looking into job prospects in the area, Burger King Corporation immediately became a top contender. Almirall was born and raised in Puerto Rico—where the popular restaurant chain opened its first store in 1963—and he grew up eating at the franchise. So while the attraction was initially nostalgic in nature, he soon found that he was a strong fit with the company personally and professionally. Almirall was hired in 2010, a transformative time for the Burger King brand in North America. Now as vice president of North America Operations and Global Standards, Almirall shares with us some of the innovative projects he’s taken on over the past three years.
Up Close & Personal
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be an entrepreneur like my parents. They are living examples of hard work, perseverance, and determination.
Where is your family from?
Although I was born in Puerto Rico, my family is from Cuba. My mother is from Havana and my father from Pinar del Rio.
What do you like to do outside of work? I like to spend time with my wife and my dogs; we have a beautiful black lab and a red border collie.
If you could do anything else for a living, what would you choose? I’ve always loved baseball since I was kid. Someday, I would love the opportunity to work on the executive staff for a Major League Baseball team.
What is your dream vacation? I don’t think I have a dream vacation, but my wife and I plan to visit Napa. We would also love to go to the Greek islands.
When Almirall began his career at Burger King Corporation he was analyzing promotional campaigns, allowing him to learn about all aspects of the business, from how many Whopper sandwiches were sold on any given day to the profit margin on every menu item. Three months into his tenure; however, the company was acquired by the global investment firm 3G Capital, which restructured his department, making Almirall project manager for the brand’s national roll out of its soft-serve platform in the United States.
It was Almirall’s responsibility to manage all aspects of the launch, including equipment deployment, ingredient sourcing, pricing, and merchandising. It was the equipment deployment that represented the biggest challenge—as Almirall was asked to do the full roll out to the whole country in just five months. “When they first told me I’d be leading this project, I thought I’d be responsible for getting soft-serve toppings to restaurants. I remember thinking, ‘How hard could this be?’” Almirall says. “I severely underestimated the task. It was the most ambitious project I’ve ever done.”
The United States was the only country in which Burger King restaurants were not serving soft-serve, but today, the platform generates significant sales to the entire system.
After proving his skills on the soft-serve roll out, Almirall was moved from marketing to operations to lead the national deployment of the largest menu overhaul in the brand’s history. The goal was to address gaps in the market, so it was time for the fast-food giant to introduce smoothies, premium salads, and chicken strips. It was also Almirall’s responsibility to make sure each location in the United States was outfitted with digital-menu boards, the first of their kind in the quick-service restaurant industry.
“This project put me right in the ‘war room’ and though it was a huge undertaking, it was just a few of us working on it,” Almirall says. “It took seven months and there were a million moving parts, but it all came together and I’m so proud of the work we did on this project.”
Operations Coach Program
After wrapping up the Game Changer initiative, Almirall was named director of operations strategy and execution—essentially leaving the project management post to address more of the day-to-day issues on the frontlines. His first task was relaunching Burger King Corporation’s Operations Coach program, comprised of 250 coaches tasked with visiting restaurants every day in order to train and enforce Burger King brand standards.
Almirall set out to change the way in which coaches prioritized their time and efforts—and implemented several changes to better align the field routines to the company’s operations vision and strategy.
Almirall’s new audit and coaching program is proving successful. So far, in 2013, Burger King Corporation has seen improvement in restaurant execution.