Bringing Wings to the World

LARRY KRUGUER, BA ’87, MBA ’92
PRESIDENT-INTERNATIONAL, WINGSTOP, DALLAS

BY KIRA LEWIS

Growing a small company is different work from keeping a large company growing, and Larry Kruguer has been able to do both during his career. “I see myself as this hybrid,” says Kruguer, who joined chicken-wing restaurant chain Wingstop in 2015, just before its IPO. He had spent the better part of the last decade in multiple international leadership positions at Wendy’s restaurants. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak in me,” he says. “It’s a different skill set: the ability to grab an early-stage concept and mold it, adapt it to the market and then help grow it.”

Kruguer, whose degrees are in international finance and marketing, joined Wingstop because he relished the opportunity to work at what he describes as a younger and more dynamic company. “Compared to being at a bigger company like Wendy’s, it is a bit more entrepreneurial, a combination of both worlds,” he says of the 914-location Wingstop, where he is leading an aggressive plan to expand internationally. When Kruguer took on the role at Wingstop, it had 45 franchised restaurants in six countries outside the U.S. It now has franchisee commitments for another 300-plus international locations. Kruguer believes that the international market could be as big as – if not bigger than – the company’s domestic market. After all, chicken is the most-consumed protein in the world.

The challenge, Kruguer says, is keeping the DNA of the core brand while also adapting it to each international market. He identifies three crucial elements a brand needs to successfully integrate into a new culture: menu, restaurant design and service. “Look at your product,” he says. “How is it differentiated and relevant for a given market?” Kruguer also says a company should select its target expansion countries for the right reasons. For instance, companies often make the error of trying to expand into markets such as China simply because of their size – rather than because the market will be a good fit. Kruguer emphasizes the importance of carefully considering market growth, saturation levels, potential customers’ disposable income and whether there is a pool of qualified management personnel to pull from within the country. “We’ve set our vision on a few precise locations,” he says of Wingstop. “It’s not about planting our flag across a lot of countries. We want to grow at a good, reasonable pace without going crazy.”

A calculated approach, however, doesn’t mean a slow one, Kruguer stresses. “You don’t have time to establish a brand internationally like you used to, because our world moves much more rapidly,” he says. One of the keys to quickly establishing a brand in a new country is the internet, in particular, social media. “It’s a way for companies to get their name out quickly and with less cost,” he says. “You can communicate why you are relevant and why people should try you. The faster you can do that, the better your chance of success.”

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