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KFC Names Alum to COO Spot; NLU Degree Helped Launch Her Journey

KFC Corporation has named Monica Rothgery chief operating officer of KFC U.S. (PRNewsfoto/KFC)

Congratulations to National Louis University  Alum Monica Rothgery, who earned her master’s degree in Written Communication in 1998.  KFC Corporation has named her Chief Operating Officer of KFC US.

In her new role, Rothgery will oversee operations with an eye toward improving processes, integrating new technology and simplifying operations. She’ll be responsible for leading franchise and equity field operations for KFC’s 4,100-plus restaurants across the United States.

Rothgery is also a military veteran, having served as a U.S. Army officer. After her service, she joined Yum! Brands in 1992 as a Taco Bell restaurant manager and has spent nearly three decades with Yum! Brands. She worked in Taco Bell HR and operations roles until 2014, when she became chief operations and people officer for KFC in Thailand. There, she modernized operations, grew the brand and increased food safety during a period when the number of KFC restaurants in Thailand doubled from 350 to 700.

Since 2018, she has served as chief restaurant productivity officer for KFC US.

Rothgery shared some of her thoughts with NLU in this Q&A.

NLU: You received your M.S. in Written Communication from National Louis University. Why did you choose writing?

Rothgery: I was a restaurant manager at a Taco Bell in Glendale Heights and I needed an outlet.  I wanted to write and study writing. I needed a program that focused on writing and would allow me to continue to focus on my job. I searched all of Chicago for a program to meet my needs and was thrilled to find the M.S. in Written Communication program at NLU.  I couldn’t wait for Wednesday night to drive up to Evanston for class, even if it meant sitting in traffic!

NLU:  How has being a good writer helped you in your career?

Rothgery: Beyond measure! Succinct and clear writing, even in the Twitter era, has often proven to be a differentiator. I had imagined that I would eventually write for a magazine, do research or maybe author a book. That hasn’t happened yet, but the truth is writing well is critical for success in any leadership role.

NLU: Do you remember any particular nugget of wisdom from your courses at NLU, or any event or professor or anything at all? Tell us about it.

Rothgery: I loved the nonfiction course, but my favorite was writing children’s books. This was way outside my comfort zone and I loved it. I wrote a goofy story called “The Gingerbread Man Who Made New Friends.” It was about a lonely gingerbread man who snuck into a bakery and made new friends.  For the nonfiction course, I wrote an extensive research paper about the brain and neuropathways that form in childhood. I still love research and assimilating ideas into a coherent story. In business, that story is a strategy. I use the same logic.

NLU:  You worked your way up through Training and HR for 13 years before becoming chief operating officer at KFC Thailand. That’s a big change. When you were contemplating taking the job in Thailand, what were your thoughts about taking risks, leaping into a huge change and making a leap of faith?

Rothgery: After finishing my M.S. I landed an awesome job in the training department at Taco Bell. It was a dream job: writing curriculum and procedures. Eventually, I took broader roles and continued to develop my skills as a business leader and HR professional. Then came the Thailand opportunity.  WOW… this role would test all of my creativity. I could no longer rely on my communication skills as I did not speak or write Thai and the Thai restaurant managers did not speak much English. What I learned is that many elements of communication are universal. With an awkward combination of English and Thai, both sides could find a way to exchange ideas. I learned that “great job” translates in every language. Positive energy and patient listening transcend an abbreviated vocabulary. Yes, it was a leap of faith, and it was the most rewarding five years of my career. I’m grateful to my Thai team for their patience and support.

NLU: What’s the next chapter for you?

Rothgery: Well, KFC is a brand with a huge legacy. Colonel Sanders had high standards and demanded that his customers get nothing but the best. Our customers deserve the same, highlighted by the best fried chicken in the world.  I am honored and humbled for the opportunity to partner with our franchisees to continue the legacy.