Former Wendy’s CEO, Elon Trustee Kerrii Anderson ’79 discusses lessons on leadership, key traits to achieving success

Elon alumna Kerrii Anderson ‘79 shared insights from her rewarding career in the business world.

Elon’s Phi Psi chapter of the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi hosted alumna Kerrii Anderson ’79 on March 8 to learn about her professional journey since graduating from Elon. Anderson, former CEO of Wendy’s International, Inc. and a member of the Elon University Board of Trustees, shared lessons on leadership and emphasized key leadership traits during the virtual event.

Screenshot of Elon DSP students in Zoom conference
Elon’s chapter of Delta Sigma Pi hears from Kerrii Anderson ’79 during an online meeting.

After graduating from Elon with a business administration degree, Anderson joined the firm KPMG. A few years later, she went back to school to earn her MBA at Duke University. Anderson says earning her MBA was the foundation to set up her “fabulous career.”

Anderson’s next professional chapter was with M/I Homes, Inc., where she became one of the first female CFOs in the male-dominated homebuilding industry.

The success Anderson achieved while at M/I Homes helped lead her to her next professional role as Wendy’s CFO. “I was attracted to Wendy’s because of Dave’s values,” Anderson said referencing Dave Thomas who was the CEO of Wendy’s at the time. Anderson explained the importance of value alignment with those of the company you work with. “You want to work for companies that you respect are doing the right things,” she said. Anderson was appointed Wendy’s CEO after serving five years as CFO.

Anderson emphasized three key leadership traits that she associates with her successful career – passion, vision and change. “You need to be doing something that you have a passion for [since] you are working with your job all the time, beyond the 9-5 work day,” she told students. Anderson suggested the audience members find something they truly care about, so they can dedicate their time and energy to being successful.

Anderson also described how great leaders always help to set a vision and a strategy for the company. They plan what it is the company should accomplish, Anderson noted, while also emphasizing the importance of embracing change. “This has been the key to success for companies during Covid-19,” Anderson said. “On boards you are constantly required to assess risk and how to mitigate it, but no one could have predicted Covid-19.”

While Anderson has served on multiple boards throughout her career, today she is a member of the board of directors for Sherwin Williams, Abercrombie & Fitch, LabCorp and Burlington Industries. “After leaving Wendy’s, I wanted to add value and give back by becoming a professional corporate member,” Anderson shared.

Anderson has served on Elon University’s Board of Trustees since 2008. She expressed how proud she is to have witnessed the growth of Elon over the past 13 years, in addition to being part of the search process and transition when Connie Ledoux Book became Elon’s ninth president.

Anderson touched on advice that she would have liked to have had at the beginning of her career. “I wish someone said to me that my education was just as high caliber as Duke and UNC, that I could compete as well as the other people in my organization would.” She explained how she did not have the confidence in her first full-time job where she worked with peers from more well-known universities.

In reflecting on her career, she noted the value in seeking out challenges and opportunities and advocating for oneself. She left the audience with this piece of advice: “It is so important that if you want a challenge or opportunity, you need to speak up, and it may take practice.”

“The event was an incredible opportunity for Delta Sigma Pi members to learn from a world-class businessperson with considerable amounts of leadership experience,” said Jacob McAllister ’22, who serves as the chapter’s VP of professional activities. “Ms. Anderson provided insight into what it’s like to be on a board of directors for a large public company, and she educated us on crucial characteristics of great leaders: being passionate, being willing to embrace change, and having a vision.”