Leadership Program: Leadership Development Forum (LDF)

Timeframe:  2004 - 2006

Participants: 200

Industry: Restaurant

Program Partner: Organization Systems International (OSI)

Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's, left a legacy that was hard to match in the years following his passing in 2002. Senior executives asked us to create a leadership program that would expand the pool of senior leaders at a pivotal time when the company was looking to expand internationally while also learning to manage a complex multi-brand enterprise.

WholeWorks’ total-immersion simulation is preparing our current and emerging leaders for many of the critical issues they are likely to face in the coming years. A truly exceptional learning and development experience!
— Jeffrey M. Cava, former EVP, Human Resources & Administration, Wendy’s International, Inc.


  • The organization needed to grow its leadership pipeline in order to support succession planning at the executive level.
  • Wendy's strategy called for faster revenue growth. The company faced important choices about whether that growth should be organic or inorganic (via acquisitions).
  • Having recently acquired two new chains (Tim Horton's, Baja Fresh), Wendy's International wanted to transition to an integrated enterprise model rather than manage the three brands independently. Leaders across the organization needed to learn how to better execute acquisitions so that they delivered their full expected value.
  • The company had struggled with previous attempts to expand internationally. The LDF program was an opportunity for managers to build competencies that supported more aggressive growth strategies.

Program Goal

To build enterprise competencies of senior managers in order to meet the company's growth strategy, help participants deal with the increasing complexity of the business, and strengthen the leadership pipeline.

Our Approach

  • In partnership with Organization Systems International (OSI), WholeWorks developed a three-day simulation-based leadership program to build competencies in Change Mastery, Financial Analysis, Business Acumen, Influence, and Problem Solving and Decision Making.
  • Around 200 senior-level managers participated in the program worldwide over a three-year period.
  • Prior to LDF program development, OSI had created a custom competency model for Wendy's. This model providing an integrated framework that aligned participants' learning objectives with other components of Wendy's talent development (e.g. 360 surveys, personal development plans).
  • To provide a realistic context for learning during the LDF, we created a three-day custom simulation of a fictional global restaurant company (ChickenWorks) based closely on Wendy International's business. The simulation recreated the multi-chain enterprise with up to three brands (depending on acquisitions) and two international devisions. The decisions and information presented to participants highlighted the tensions that Wendy faced in moving towards central services and international growth. (See sample program materials below.) Executives chose to create a custom simulation so that managers could immediately apply their insights to Wendy's business model.
  • Participants assumed roles and worked in teams to manage the virtual business over seven years. They exercised new competencies during multiple rounds of decision-making as they implemented their strategies in pursuit of growth targets.
  • Hands-on workshops helped build participants’ skills in team decision-making and shareholder value creation; these new skills were immediately applied in the simulation (just-in-time learning). 
Mix of LDE Activities Supports All Learning Styles

Mix of LDE Activities Supports All Learning Styles

Inside ChickenWorks annual report

ChickenWorks organizational chart

Simulation output report: North American Operations

Portion of ChickenWorks System Dynamics model

Portion of ChickenWorks SyStem Dynamics MOdel

Sample ChickenWorks Memo: Acquisitions and Shared Services

Sample ChickenWorks memo: Acquisition Analysis


  • Participants felt the ChickenWorks simulation accurately reproduced the Wendy's International culture and captured real-world trade-offs about central services vs decentralization, domestic growth vs international growth, and competing strategies for bolstering the core brand. 
  • By developing over 200 senior managers, the program built leadership bench strength during a critical period of ownership transition at Wendy's. Participants gained valuable experience in change leadership, business acumen, and collaborating across functions. This helped them spearhead innovative menu and service initiatives in subsequent years.
  • The simulation also taught LDF participants valuable lessons about managing a multi-brand enterprise (as future events would show). Among them: the challenge of keeping focus on the core brand and not getting spread thin by attempting to integrate new brands with different cultures.
  • The simulation provided a working laboratory for quickly testing new strategies (e.g. centralized services, acquisitions) and preparing managers to execute them. 
Source: Yahoo! Finance

Valuable Learning Experience

The LDF simulation consistent received highest ratings from participants: 4.7/5.0 and above.

Representative "comments to share with colleagues" from participants:

  • "Great! [The simulation] gives us a chance to wear different hats in the organization with little fear of failure."
  •  “A fun, real world simulation environment, which will greatly enhance financial, cross-functional, and open thinking skills (great for building enterprise skills).”
  • Excellent program. Come open minded."
  • “Good opportunity – I hope it is offered to many of my colleagues. Great way to learn more about the business through varied talented colleagues.”
  • “It is powerful! Supports an individual’s strengths and identifies areas of weakness/opportunity.”
  • “[The LDF] will improve you ability to work in teams, as well as improving your understanding of financial concepts used daily at WII.”
  • “The experience exceeded my expectations. Not only did I gain a better, practical understanding of Finance, I was also able to strengthen my visioning and change mastery competencies.”