Now that Burger King's order is filled, let's keep on serving
By Michael Lewis
Three years ago this week, we congratulated ourselves on retaining Burger King's global headquarters.
Well, supersize that, because we've done it again.
Last week, the final roadblock fell to a new headquarters for the fast-food giant on LeJeune Road in the heart of Coral Gables, a city known globally as an international corporate hub. Burger King should be home there by 2008.
Stability, however, is not Burger King's middle name. The corporation has changed its chief executive officer 10 times in the past 15 years and its ad agency five times in the past four - more often than it changes its menu - as it battles to stay close to industry leader McDonald's and ahead of fast-closing No. 3 Wendy's. This will become its third headquarters in the county since 2002.
It looked for a while like we might not get it.
Although Jim McLamore and David Edgerton founded the company here more than 50 years ago, Burger King looked once again at moving away before it got a deal in the Gables it couldn't refuse. Then some residents raised voices about traffic - concerns the City Commission finally settled Dec. 13, clearing the way for the Codina Group to start the headquarters project.
Keeping the corporation, which had $11 billion in sales last year and served 11.4 million persons a day, was vital - a major victory for the government, business and civic leaders who made it happen. They deserve our applause.
The importance is not just the jobs we saved, though we're plenty glad we kept them. In the past 12 months, this county has added 28,688 jobs while cutting unemployment from 5.4% to 4.2%, so fewer than 1,000 headquarters jobs at Burger King would neither make nor break us.
But keeping this homegrown brand name at home means more to us than just the numbers.
Headquarters jobs pay far higher than average in our county, and the executives recruited globally will flavor Miami's pot of talent even if Burger King were to flip homes after it soon goes public.
If we're lucky, some of this upper-end talent will become active in charitable, educational and civic leadership - and bring their corporate resources with them. Corporate leaders are sorely lacking here because most of our big headquarters are long gone, either moved out or defunct.
Leadership-hungry institutions like the Beacon Council and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce are probably licking their chops right now at the thought of getting Burger King higher-ups to serve on their boards.
Whether or not we succeed in getting new Burger King leaders like CEO Greg Brenneman to become personally active in Miami, just linking the sizzling brand name to us is a key part of enhancing our reputation. On the flip side, loss of the burger giant would have soured our reputation as a hemispheric business mecca.
Just because we've managed to retain Burger King, however, we shouldn't forget about the company's needs. And as we have seen, its appetites can turn on a dime.
Just 31/2 years ago, when Burger King moved to 160,000 square feet at 5505 Blue Lagoon Dr. and 40,000 in Dadeland Towers from its old campus at what is now Palmetto Bay Village Center, its executive vice president of worldwide human resources, Stephen Cerrone, said the new sites "provide us with state-of-the-art workplaces that will also allow us to save millions of dollars in facilities expenses over the life of the leases."
Good deal. The county asked the Legislature to rename a nearby slice of Red Road to Whopper Way.
But that state-of-the-art situation didn't last long. Nor did the saving. And now it's really Whopper Bye-Way.
In moving to again get savings and state-of-the-art quarters in Coral Gables, the company has a new 15-year lease. But, as we know in Miami-Dade, leased space can be subleased when companies' tastes change.
That means leaders should be looking to Burger King for far more than sponsorship funds and civic leadership talent. We should be looking to Burger King as a valued community citizen that will need tender, loving care - a special order, if you will - as it moves to go public and shed its current Texas Pacific owners.
We need to be active order-takers here. Organizations like the Beacon Council should, and undoubtedly will, visit regularly to ask how they can serve one of our tastiest brand names.
Want fries with that?