Business Leader John Dillon Explores Brand Growth – From Pizza to Basketball to Denny’s and Beyond

John Dillon Brand Growth from Basketball to Denny’s
Photo Courtesy: John Dillon / Baylor University - Hankamer School of Business

By: Factfullguys

When business leader John Dillon was ready to graduate from Baylor University years ago, he knew a career in sports was destined for his future. He sent cover letters and resumes to every sports organization in the major four leagues – MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL – only to get hit with repeated rejections.

“So I gave up that dream, and I thought that was forever,” Dillon shared in a recent interview that delved into his remarkable career trajectory as he has evolved into one of the most accomplished senior executives in the country, including a visible role as President of Denny’s Corporation (NASDAQ: DENN).

“Little did I know over a decade later, after giving up on my initial dream and working my way up the corporate ladder and getting a strong foundation in business through roles at Fidelity Investments, Omnicom and Pizza Hut, I would be presented with a unique opportunity for a role leading marketing for the NBA’s Houston Rockets. It’s a testament to never giving up on your dream and doing the hard work to build relationships in the right way – you never know where they will lead.”

Dillon’s ability to persevere and overcome obstacles is why he is an award-winning senior executive and advisory board member of some of the largest businesses, organizations and universities in the world, with a multi-decade track record of connecting brands with customers to drive business performance. Throughout his career he has been recognized for building outstanding, loyal teams and creating a dynamic, trust-based culture leading to sustainable sales, profit, and growth of team satisfaction.

John Dillon’s Career Achievements

Dillon is the former President, Chief Brand Officer, and Chief Marketing Officer of Denny’s Corporation (NASDAQ: DENN), where he spent over 16 years at the international $2.9B-revenue company.

During his tenure, he led the brand to the rollout of new equipment platforms, incremental investment in technology infrastructure, creation of a comprehensive social impact strategy, launch and expansion of digital sales, established incremental virtual brands, and drove significant improvement in guest satisfaction, among other efforts.

Additionally, during his time as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Brand Officer, John Dillon led efforts to identify the brand positioning of America’s Diner, establish its “We Love to Feed People” brand purpose, completely revamp the product menu, and overhaul the marketing/media strategy, resulting in the positive turnaround of relationships with franchisees, digital transformation, and the successful launch of the company’s delivery business.

The company’s EBITDA grew 28%, and the company and franchise restaurant AUV grew by 40% and 24%, respectively, during Dillon’s overall tenure.

In 2024, he founded HMS Growth Partners, a dynamic consultancy firm that drives revenue growth, customer engagement, and overall business performance for brands across diverse industries. The name itself speaks to Dillon’s steadfast belief in how business and brand growth are tied directly to how well brand’s connect with the Hearts, Minds and Souls of their customers and team members. “There is no question a deep correlation in the heart, mind and soul connection and the trajectory of business growth,” Dillon says. “And that’s what the clients I’m working with both appreciate and are aggressively pursuing. It’s been incredible to see, and we’re having fun doing it.”

With a wealth of experience from leadership roles in renowned companies, including Denny’s, the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Yum! Brands, and Pizza Hut, John brings a unique blend of strategic insight and operational expertise to the table.

Dillon says this last year of his life has been transformational and he’s excited about the future. “Life is precious,” Dillon says, “and priorities can get out of kilter. It’s important to remember that success is defined in multiple ways, not just professional success, but success across all aspects of your life and impact.”

Dillon currently is focusing on things that are really important to him. In addition to the work with clients of HMS Growth Partners, he’s serving as an Executive in Residence at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, his alma mater. He’s also joined multiple advisory boards and is spending more time volunteering and with his family, living out the balance and portfolio life he talks about.

John Dillon’s Approach to Business and Life

Professionally, John Dillon’s track record speaks volumes about his expertise in revitalizing brands and delivering tangible results. During his tenure as President at Denny’s, he oversaw a dynamic team responsible for driving operations, marketing, HR, training, finance, and communications for a $2.9 billion systemwide revenue brand.

Under his leadership, Denny’s experienced impressive sales, operating revenue, and EBITDA growth, demonstrating John’s ability to steer organizations toward sustainable success.

His impact and influence have been widely recognized, with accolades from various “Top Leader” lists in Forbes, Adweek, Business Insider, PR Week, and Nation’s Restaurant News, among others, cementing his status as a top influencer and innovator across multiple industries.

As he continues to chart new territories with HMS Growth Partners, John remains steadfast in his mission to revolutionize how brands connect with their customers and their team members, leaving an indelible mark on businesses and the people he serves and works alongside.

Beyond his professional achievements, Dillon is deeply committed to fostering collaborative relationships and giving back to the community.

His involvement in industry boards, esteemed organizations like the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (where he served as Chairman), and advisory roles at leading universities reflects his dedication to driving positive change within and beyond the business realm.

John Dillon’s Impact Beyond the Boardroom

John and his wife Elisha are contributors to many organizations, including Compassion International, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, No Kid Hungry, United Way, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s, JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and more. He also has created an endowment at Baylor University for its Women in Business program.

John Dillon sees life as an ever-unfolding adventure, filled with opportunities for growth and transformation. He approaches each new chapter with anticipation and excitement, knowing that every ending leads to a new beginning full of potential and possibilities.

When asked about advice for success, John there’s no one thing necessarily, but a unique combination of multiple key attributes that fit each leader where they are in their career and personal life.

It’s personal for everybody. For me it’s a combination of a will to succeed, a curiosity for learning, a balance of art and science of business, and a strong sense of empathy for my peers, my team, my franchisees, my operators, my board, or whoever the stakeholders I encounter on a daily basis,” he said. “And more and more, I’ve realized it’s about balance and caring for others along your journey. That’s the best way to grow in all aspects – to connect with the hearts, minds and souls of the people you come in contact with. Each of us has the ability and the honor to do so every day.”

Published by: Martin De Juan


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