By Peter Saunders
On Feb. 16, Susan Senecal became the first woman to take on the role of president and CEO of A&W Food Services of Canada, the franchisor for the country’s second-largest burger chain, behind only McDonald’s Canada. She is also the company’s first fully bilingual CEO.
Senecal succeeds Paul Hollands, who spent 37 years with A&W, including the last 13 as CEO. He has retired from operations, but will continue to serve as chair of the company’s board.
As A&W Canada’s fifth CEO, Senecal is working to ensure continuity of leadership. She has 25 years’ experience with the franchisor, having been involved with or led almost all major areas of the business, including operations, development, real estate and marketing, during a period of continual growth. She spearheaded a strategy to bring progressive, sustainable and ethical products and practices to A&W’s restaurants, such as organic fair-trade coffee, eggs from hens fed a diet without animal byproducts and, most recently, root beer made with natural cane sugar and flavours. Now, she looks ahead to future opportunities.
On her food-service career
“I grew up in Montreal and studied biology at McGill University. My interest in business began while I was a student working summer jobs. Later on, as a trainee assistant manager at a restaurant, I fell in love with the food service industry.
I joined A&W as an area manager in 1992. Back then, all of our Montreal restaurants were located in enclosed shopping centres, but the company was about to transition its model to become more engrained in Eastern Canadian communities with free-standing, drive-thru restaurants, which had already proven highly successful in Western Canada. By bringing the same concept to Ontario and Quebec, we reconnected our brand with baby boomers, who remembered the original drive-in A&W model.
Since then, we have continued to innovate, adapt and evolve, so our restaurants still resonate with Canadians. This process has involved everything from overhauling our menu to launch our ‘urban’ restaurant model in downtown cores.
As A&W grew over time, I was appointed general manager (GM) for Quebec and, later, for all of Eastern Canada. I became chief marketing officer (CMO) in 2012 and then president and chief operating officer (COO) in 2015.”