When you combine a leader that has the natural DNA of an innovator with the mandate and platform to reinvent and create new businesses, you end up with an inspirational path to transformation. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Drew Panayiotou, President and Managing Partner of Red Wagon at Chick-fil-A, and I was able to sit down with him recently to chat innovation at the Enterprise Entrepreneurship Series (EES) in Atlanta. With a mission at Red Wagon to reinvent the retail experience (and reimagine it in markets outside of restaurants), you can’t help but be excited about the new platform for innovation.
Red Wagon continues the entrepreneurial legacy of Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A. As the inventor of the chicken sandwich, Mr. Cathy built an incredible business with a powerful brand and loyal following centered on its unique customer experience. This legacy continues under the leadership of current CEO, Dan Cathy, as he invests in innovation for Chick-fil-A and continues to significantly grow the business. Even with the incredible success of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy is looking beyond the core business, and continuing the legacy of innovation his family has created with ventures such as Red Wagon.
Necessary to making a mission like this a reality is a leader like Drew. He brings a track record of working as a senior executive at some of the largest brands at critical points in their evolution. One example is his time at Coca-Cola where he was instrumental in creating the Venturing and Emerging Brands (VEB) business. This unit was charged with finding new platforms of growth for Coca-Cola that were not core to the business. Drew brings an incredible entrepreneurial spirit that is combined with the conviction to challenge the norm while having the business acumen to execute on the most innovative of concepts.
Under Drew’s leadership, the Red Wagon team explores new markets and categories where they could reinvent the retail experience. This is much more than applying a layer of technology on existing processes and methods, but fundamentally reimaging the experience in a new category. To make this happen, Red Wagon looks at having a very expansive ecosystem including creating new businesses with innovative corporate-to-corporate partnerships. Red Wagon will partner with other corporations and work together to creatively reimagine a retail concept and experience and implement the concept jointly with the support of outside investors. This approach is not only a way to leverage the strengths and scale of each other’s company, but also to harness the collective intellectual and creative capability of both companies to create a new business.
In our conversation at EES, Drew talked about the entrepreneurial, strategic and creative skills needed to innovate and create new business models. He also talked about facing into the reality of large corporations and having the ability to navigate the cultural, political and governance environment of companies to be successful in innovation. Corporations, by its nature, are designed to create predictability in results and repeatability in its processes. When you are leading business innovation, like Drew is at Red Wagon, you need to be prepared to keep telling your story and “have thick skin” as you navigate the corporate ecosystem of your company (and of those you partner with.)
Drew Panayiotou is a dynamic leader and innovator and through Red Wagon he is on the cutting edge of redefining how corporations can innovate and deliver long-term sustainable growth. It is a bold approach grounded in reimagining retail through the lens of creating new and unique experiences. It will be a fascinating journey that will boldly evolve how companies innovate while introducing new businesses and value to the world.