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El Pollo Loco’s CMO Designed His Dream Career: Inspirational Interview with Andy Rebhun

Andy Rebhun is the CMO of El Pollo Loco and was kind enough to share his Designing Your Life story with us after he mentioned the impact the book had on him in Adweek. His bio and interview are below:

Andy Rebhun is the Chief Marketing Officer at El Pollo Loco. Andy is an accomplished global marketing executive who has delivered first-to-market products and profitable growth for billion-dollar brands across Fortune 50 companies through product innovation, brand strategy, integrated marketing, digital transformation, and customer service. As CMO of El Pollo Loco, he is responsible for overseeing all marketing and brand strategy functions, including menu and new product development, advertising and public relations, digital and social media and consumer engagement for El Pollo Loco’s 487 company and franchise restaurants in six states.

Andy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management. He currently lives in Playa Vista, California, where he enjoys running on the beach, riding his Peloton Bike, trying new restaurants, and traveling the world.

Your professor, Carter, taught a class that inspired you, and recommended *a book* that inspired you, tell us about that: 

I was extremely fortunate to have the honor of meeting Carter in February 2019. His class was one of the most popular at Kellogg School of Management and I initially wasn’t able to get in. I showed up as the class started and he was kind enough to let me in despite there not being enrollment capacity. His career path was similar to mine, and I felt I could learn a ton from him. I didn’t take the class for credit, but he graded all my assignments and provided me tremendous feedback that helped change my perspective on multiple elements of my life. Carter’s class revolved around a book he wrote called The Right- and Wrong- Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it. Over the course of discussions Carter also highly recommended Designing Your Life, which ultimately, I decided to read and the rest is history!  

You mention looking back, you can see some of the moments you designed in your exercise, can you share an example (or three) of those moments with us?

I’ll answer this in three different tracks: Career, Travel/Life, Personal/Family

  1.       From a career standpoint it was a dream and stretch goal of mine to have an opportunity to be a CMO by the time I’m 40. There were a couple of other career milestones that I would need to tackle first, most notable being in a senior digital leadership position to demonstrate what I believe to be a critical skill set in the present day CMO. I was fortunate to receive an opportunity to join the El Pollo Loco team in October 2019 as the VP of Digital, own the P&L and help lead the digital transformation in Loyalty, Off Premise Delivery, E-commerce, and social media. I loved the job which allowed me to make a big impact at a smaller company.
  2.       Travel/Life: When I started Designing My Life in the middle of 2019 it was pre-pandemic, so I put together what I felt was a somewhat aggressive travel schedule over the course of 4-5 years. Very quickly I started holding myself accountable and due to a rigorous travel schedule at Ford and McDonald’s had the opportunity to be a jetsetter with multiple award travel redemptions. In the summer of 2019, I went to visit my friends from graduate school I had met in Tel Aviv. Took a trip with some graduate school friends to Colombia in August 2019. I did a solo trip to Bali in September 2019. Visited a friend of mine in Ecuador in January 2020 and experienced my first Carnivale in Brazil at the beginning of March 2020. This was all prior to the pandemic. I’m just now starting to pick up where I left off.
  3.       I knew that I wanted to at some point be closer to home. I moved 6 times in 11 years between Detroit, Kansas City, Detroit, Boston, Chicago and Atlanta. I took the job with El Pollo Loco knowing I could be closer to home and family. I was constantly renting given the frequent opportunity for moves at my prior companies. I am proud to share that I became a first-time homeowner in October of 2020, which was a dream of mine to be able to buy my first house.

Did you do the exercises right away? What exercise was the most impactful for you?

I did the exercises quickly. Sometimes I have a hard time finishing a book but given the interactivity of this one it kept me captivated and enabled me to finish it quickly. There were a couple that I found to be extremely impactful. The fuel gauge exercise where I had to do a self-assessment on different elements of my life, reflecting on different elements of my career where I was at my best and worst, and the odyssey exercise where I created different life roadmaps were the three most impactful.

You have clearly applied Designing Your Life to your work, and you mentioned in the AdWeek podcast you also dreamed of owning a home. How else are you using the tools to design a holistic, joy-filled life?

Recently I had a friend give me perspective that I needed to do a better job on my 5-9 given I had so heavily prioritized my 9-5 the first 12-13 years of my career. It further reinforced the need to hold myself accountable to various elements of my life: going to more LA Dodger games, regularly doing bike rides and runs on the beach, traveling to see friends and experience places I’ve always wanted to go. When it comes to personal life, I feel like accountability should happen a bit more naturally because I don’t necessarily feel like personal life should always be as planned out nor on a schedule.

You knew you wanted to be a CMO pretty early in your career, how did you identify that feeling? 

I think the ability to try to convince an advocate or customer to give your brand a try is a beautiful thing. Whether it be changing behavior, getting someone to consider your brand, or building awareness for the great things your brand is doing, marketing is a broad and vast science. As I saw some coworkers specializing in different disciplines at Ford and others rotating consistently, I became more fascinated with the broader discipline of marketing specifically: communications, digital, experiential, product, and retail and I knew after about two years at Ford I wanted to try to learn as much as I could to be a senior marketing leader.

Now that you’ve become CMO, do you revisit the exercises? Have you done a new Odyssey plan? 

I’m so grateful for the opportunity as a CMO and am regularly reflecting on the exercises I have done in the past. Part of the reason I went back to graduate school was to be able to have a broader perspective in disciplines I wasn’t as comfortable with. At some point, I’d love to be a brand President or CEO and believe I’ll need to take assignments that will help me accomplish it, thus a new foundational Odyssey plan is probably going to be designed soon.

What would you tell someone looking to design a career similar to yours?

Be willing to take on the tough assignments. Relocation earlier on in your career is easier. There isn’t a one size fits all model. You don’t work for brands; you work for and with people. You can wear a brand on your sleeve, but ultimately, it’s the coworker and or manager that’ll make or break the experience wherever you go.    

Do you encourage your team and people in your life to design their lives?

I’m fortunate to work with an incredible group of talented team members at El Pollo Loco. I have encouraged some of them to start thinking about how different elements of work experience, travel, and milestones can help set them up for success in the future. I have purchased the book for a couple of my team members and share the book with many of the individuals who I’m fortunate to mentor.

Have you read our latest book, Designing Your New Work Life?

It’s funny you ask this question. I have seen it constantly in my Amazon recommended selections. This question put me over the edge. I just bought it!

Can you design food trends? Are viral food moments… designed? 

The element of “design” comes with understanding your audience. When introducing new trends and content on the El Pollo Loco TikTok we consistently keep a close eye on audience feedback and always heavily consider what content really resonates with our fans. El Pollo Loco’s goal on social media is always to create a sense of community, spread positivity and of course leave our fans craving delicious food – virality comes with a commitment to your brand’s authentic voice. There is certainly a line in which brands can “over design” their content and that lack of authenticity is easy to identify.

Final question: we are also Birria fans, and you just launched a new Birria offering. How do you like yours: taco, burrito, or quesadilla?

Our Mexican Shredded Beef Birria was available for a limited time and left the El Pollo Loco menu at the beginning of June, but we heard the fan love loud and clear and will certainly bring birria back to the El Pollo Loco menu in the future. While the Shredded Beef Birria Crunchy Tacos were the crowd favorite, I personally loved the Shredded Beef Birria Burrito the most.