Tanisha Chea “If an idea sounds too achievable – go bigger.”

High flying marketing expert, innovation leader, and entrepreneur proves that through balance and determination, anything is possible.

Douglas Hampton-Dowson

5 min read

Krispy Kreme’s VP of Global Innovation, Tanisha Chea, has seen ample success since her career began as a marketing intern at Chick-fil-A. During this 12+ year period, her most notable achievements include her roles at Taco Bell as both a Senior Manager and Director of Brand Marketing, her role as Vice President of Marketing at Carrabba’s, and her current status of Vice President of Global Innovation at Krispy Kreme.

In addition to her impressive resume within corporate America, Tanisha is an entrepreneur who successfully built her own brand. As CEO and creator of Tala Baby – an inspired baby line teaching the importance of values and good character – she assumes every role of this business. From creating the brand, developing the concepts, to innovation, product design, as well as taking orders, selling and shipping, she does it all.

Tackling a busy work life, with a husband and two babies at home, Tanisha’s success comes from her ability to achieve a balance that works for her. Her incredible work ethic, ability to take chances, and being true to what she believes in has rewarded her an impressive career that only continues to flourish.

We sat down to talk to Chea about her career thus far, discussing topics, such as her high-end role at a Fortune 500 company, her contributions towards the restaurant industry’s global leaders, what she’s learned and advice she has to give, her children, and how she balances a full life while still reaching for the stars in every direction.

Let’s start with the easiest question – tell me a little bit about your background.

I have spent my entire post-MBA career in the QSR restaurant industry focused very specifically on branding, marketing and innovation. I started my career at Chick-fil-A as an intern, which was my introduction into the fast-food industry and the corporate side of the restaurant industry. I ended up getting recruited into Yum! Brands, and started off my career in global at KFC on their brand marketing team. I focused on digital activation, new products, and growing the existing business.

Then I moved to California to work with our sister company, Taco Bell – which was where I spent the majority of my time at Yum! I spent five years there my first go round, and I kicked off Taco Bell’s breakfast initiative that we know today. I also spearheaded a lot of the really impactful value work that was done on the brand

What came next?

An opportunity presented itself to me where I ended up leaving Yum! to become the CMO of Carrabba’s Italian Grill. So I moved onto Bloomin’ Brands to focus on Carrabba’s concept. Coming from Yum! Brands – and more specifically Taco Bell, I was used to focusing on the millennial. I was used to having large marketing budgets with flashy TV advertising. So going to a smaller brand like Carrabba’s, that had an almost non-existent TV budget and more focus on activating at the local level, I found to be an interesting challenge that I hadn’t had in my career, until that point. You’ve got to work to understand every market and every nuance. You’re working with different groups of people and different media people in every market, versus working with national media outlets. I was also doing a lot of store-level activations to really drive traffic. So it was a new challenge that I’d really welcomed because it was exercising a muscle that I hadn’t previously been able to exercise at a larger brand. But I ended up being a part of a really massive layoff, which actually ended up being a blessing in disguise because I ended up having twins, and took a lovely 15-month maternity leave. So I was really excited to be able to have that time to spend with my twins.

I’d see these baby clothes with what seemed like only negative messages on them. Everything said “Future Heartbreaker” or “I’m gonna steal your girl” – stuff like that, and I didn’t want to raise my boys with those messages.

And your kids were the inspiration behind Tala Baby?

Yes. So I took a chance and tried my hand at entrepreneurship. As I was pregnant and thinking about what sort of things I wanted for my twins, I’d see these baby clothes with what seemed like only negative messages on them. Everything said “Future Heartbreaker” or “I’m gonna steal your girl” – stuff like that, and I didn’t want to raise my boys with those messages. I really wanted to be very mindful of everything that I did from them, from the food that they’re eating, to the clothes that they’re wearing, to the bedding that they’re sleeping on. That’s when I started to become interested in designing my own clothing. And as I got further along in the process, I realized that this actually might be an idea. And so, my company is called Tala Baby. Tala in Icelandic means to speak. I chose an Icelandic word because Iceland consistently ranks under the top four happiest countries in the world, for a number of reasons. So I felt that if my boys are going to wear clothes with positive messages on them, let’s start at one of the happiest places on earth. All of the clothing has an animal on it representing a character trait well-embodied by that animal. So for instance, elephants are pretty notorious for their empathy, so we have an elephant to represent empathy. We have a lion to represent valor, a caterpillar to represent growth – all the character traits that I would want my boys, or any child to learn and emulate. So I developed a line of clothing, and I went through the whole process from product development, building a website, e-Commerce, advertising/PR. I got out in the local communities where I was at the time in Tampa, and was doing shows there. I collaborated with some local businesses to sell in a couple of shops there – Tampa is actually a huge entrepreneurial community, which was amazing to tap into. I loved every second of doing that. But after a while, I discovered that I probably needed to go back to work.

How do you maintain a work-life balance that works for you?

Because I had that time to spend with my boys, and had that time to exercise that kind of entrepreneurial side of me, I wanted to find a company that would allow me to have the work/life balance that gave me time with my kids and wasn’t going to be such an incredibly high-stress environment. I also wanted to find a company that supported the things that had become important to me in a work environment which was incredible creativity, entrepreneurship, and kind of thinking like an owner even if I was working in a corporate environment. In researching and talking with different industry people, it turned out that Krispy Kreme was the best fit all around, so I took a job as their VP of innovation, and relocated here to the Charlotte area. I love what I’m doing right now; it’s everything that I was looking for in my next step. Every single day, I get to create new things.

You are an innovation leader at this point in your career. Are there any techniques or direction you give your team in order to achieve the best ideas and performance?

I like telling people to think big and unreasonable, go as big and unattainable as possible. If not, by the time it makes it through to market, it’s going to be smaller, and it’s going to be something that you can actually go to market with. But if you start small, you’re going to end tiny. You have to start at a place that is ridiculous, and the ideas will filter themselves out. I always like to think bigger. This changes the answer every single time, and that’s where we should start.

You’ve launched things that have affected millions of people – what they see, what they do, and how they consume. What are you most proud of up to this point in your career?
Now that I think about it, one of my proudest accomplishments is the dollar cravings menu at Taco Bell, not only because it still lives on their menu, but also because it is really impactful for the value consumer at Taco Bell. At the end of the day as a restaurant company, your job is to feed people and find a way to do that within a budget that works for them. I’m super proud of that work because it was really a solutions-oriented menu that provided products for that consumer, while still having advertising value and being something the company finds worthy of advertising and creating new products for.

You’ve launched things that have affected millions of people – what they see, what they do, and how they consume. What are you most proud of up to this point in your career?

I actually feel like women are incredibly intuitive and good at multitasking. So for me, being a mom has actually made me more efficient because my time is incredibly valuable on all fronts. When I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I’m at home, I’m home. I’m literally always thinking of other people and what makes sense for them. I feel like as a marketer, I was already doing this to some extent, but now it’s amplified because as a mom – that’s all I do. So when we’re developing new products for Krispy Kreme, I’m always thinking from the perspective of a mom. I ask myself, what would make a kid ask for this donut? Does a mom want to give this donut to her child? Does a mom want a child eating this donut in their back seat or is it too messy?

There’s a certain pressure facing working mothers in American culture in regards to performance and balancing all aspects of life. What’s your advice for women in those types of situations?

My advice is to be fully “on” wherever you are physically at that point in time. So if you’re at work, be at work. Even if you need to take a half day to get other things done at home, be present and get things done in real time. It frees your mind and allows you to give direct attention and care to each space you’re in.

What does innovation look like in the food business. How does that all work?

Innovation in the food and restaurant industry is basically centered on two things – the actual food itself, and developing consumer products.

At Krispy Kreme, it’s just figuring out what’s right for our consumer, our markets, our shops, our brand. We do work with different partners to bring things to life. It’s just a lot of fun to get in there and create things even if you don’t have an absolute strategic reason behind it. Sometimes, things get uncovered while you’re just playing around with ideas, and you never know what’s going to come out of those sessions. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a lot of fun, and hopefully we get some really cool ideas out of it.

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