Kristen FitzPatrick doesn’t mind admitting that it took more than academics to fuel her success. With standardized testing and a curriculum that often seemed inapplicable, FitzPatrick looked forward to getting out of the classroom and engaged in something she loved.
“I always loved the idea of working in business,” says FitzPatrick, who is currently director of Dunkin’ Insights and Analytics. “Being a leader in business is never about getting to a singular standardized answer. It’s about being able to make and influence decisions quickly with limited sets of data and in the context of driving the overall business objectives. That appealed to me from day one.”
Sports taught a young FitzPatrick about building relationships, mentoring, and working toward shared goals. She enrolled in Northeastern University, which had a co-op program that allowed her to put her skills to immediate work, and the executive-to-be saw her previous academic struggles fall away.
The inspiring leader and mentor that FitzPatrick has become didn’t happen without some soul-searching. After achieving success in investment management, FitzPatrick realized that she wasn’t serving her true passion.
“I had a great job that I was really good at,” the director says. “Yet I was five years in, and something was missing. I didn’t have a true passion for the work or the industry I was in, and I knew if I was going to achieve true success and fulfillment, that was a critical ingredient. I decided I needed to realign my career to my passions, which ultimately meant taking a step back.”
The dreaded “step backward” is an important inflection point for so many executives. FitzPatrick took on an in-house analyst role at Dunkin’ Brands, hoping that her own work could produce success for a beloved brand.
It’s the step that propelled FitzPatrick ahead through five promotions to her current role that occurred after the December 2020 Dunkin’ acquisition by Inspire Brands, whose portfolio of brands includes Arby’s, Sonic Drive-in, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Jimmy John’s. “From day one, everything clicked, and I knew right then that I was going to make a difference in the future of Dunkin’ and be fulfilled along the way.”
Over the past nine years, FitzPatrick has let her curiosity and passion run wild. She has worked diligently to evolve the Dunkin’ data analytics team from rudimentary Excel spreadsheets into a best-in-class insights and analytics department and the partner of choice to franchisees and stakeholders.
“We’ve built out a whole test-and-learn approach to ensure that as we’re testing and launching new products and initiatives, we are sure we’re putting out something that will work across our entire system,” she says. “When you’re talking about 9,000 [Dunkin’] stores across the country, you need to be confident that what you’re rolling out is going to fit more than just your core market and existing consumers. We’ve really helped ingrain that data-based mindset in all of our decision-makers.”
FitzPatrick says staying and growing through several roles has made sense to her because of the alignment of her core values: credibility, empathy, vulnerability, transparency, and partnership. It’s also clear that the company’s overarching investment and belief in the power of analytics makes the insights and analytics team at Inspire the place to be for those looking to make a real impact on a massive scale.
“We have really enabled ourselves to build a team that has a seat at every decision-making table across the company, which is amazing,” FitzPatrick explains. “We’re here for our leadership team, and we’re also here for all other stakeholders if they need us. I always say that no area is too big or too small for us to share our analytical expertise and thought partnership to.”
As the director’s roles and responsibilities have increased, so too has her own investment in supporting the careers of women in data and analytics. FitzPatrick is continually inspired by someone who progressed her career from within: Kate Jaspon, CFO of Inspire Brands. “Kate demonstrates leadership that doesn’t forgo the unique values that we bring as women to these roles,” FitzPatrick says. “She is known as more than a CFO—she is an authentic, passionate, team player with a natural ability to cultivate relationships. To have that type of leadership coming from the top of such a large organization is a unique, inspiring, and powerful force.”
FitzPatrick says her own approach is about giving visibility to people who can accomplish great things and bring their own talents if given the chance.
“What too often is overlooked is the unique skill set and perspective that women inherently bring to the table that adds so much incremental value and competitive advantage, especially within the function of insights and analytics,” she explains. “Sometimes women just need a little more encouragement to be willing to stand up and actively seek out those opportunities rather than wait for someone to find them.”
It’s an exciting time to be at Inspire Brands. With a significant runway for growth domestically and globally for its portfolio of brands, its departments and capabilities are rapidly expanding. Inspire’s data and insights team has almost unlimited space for creative problem solving and discovering new ideas and methods, so team members have the chance to build out the role for themselves and demonstrate their unique value in a department whose star is continuing to rise.
“We aren’t looked to for data,” FitzPatrick says. “We’re looked to for insights. There’s such an amazing chance here to grow your career with a company that spans across multiple brands and is heavily invested in the analytical space.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Christine Vanderpool
“Kristen FitzPatrick’s passion for driving the right decisions using the right data is evident. However, it is her strong core values that have made her successful and given her the opportunity to inspire others.”