AFE Medalist David C. Novak with wife Wendy after the ceremony.
AFE Medalist David C. Novak with wife Wendy after
the ceremony.

“Believe in yourself, because you never know what you’re capable of,” said David C. Novak, co-founder, retired chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands Inc., at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s  32nd annual American Free Enterprise Day.

Novak,  American Free Enterprise Medalist for 2017, said that he never thought he would be as successful as he is today, coming from his humble background. However he points to the way that he was raised as one factor in his business success.

Living in 23 states by the time he was in seventh grade, Novak  quickly learned to how to meet people and make friends. This skill, he said, is a critical skill we all need to work through hard situations and remove the anxieties of life.

The son of industrious parents,  Novak learned that there is no substitute for hard work and that every job has dignity, no matter how small.

 “The harder you work earlier in your career, the faster you will separate yourself from others and the faster your career will take off,” he said.

At the beginning of his career in marketing and advertising,  he eventually connected with Andy Pearson, past president of PepsiCo, who served as his mentor and business partner, said Novak --crediting Pearson's belief in him as making a tremendous difference in his life, modeling the role of a great leader.

Novak shared that that his wife, Wendy, has inspired him throughout their 42-year marriage. The two established the Lift a Life Foundation, which helps individuals in need reach their full potential through grants and programming in the areas of youth leadership development, hunger relief, early childhood education, juvenile diabetes and military family support.

“We all need life partners and mentors to believe in us and help us realize our capabilities,” he said.

Novak shared how he addressed business challenges through the power of recognition when he was named president of Kentucky Fried Chicken, now known as KFC.  He became known for the personal recognition awards that he gave to deserving employee, pointing to the power these awards held to transform the work environment and catapult the fortunes of the company.

“One credo I have always believed in is that leadership is a privilege,” he said. “As you climb the ladder, stay humble and be honored by the privilege of leadership.”

Also honored were four companion medalists David S. Donten, CPA, and one of the founding shareholders of Caler, Donten, Cohen, Porter & Veil, P.A.; James Donnelly, founder and CEO of the Castle Group; David Wright, owner of Butterfield Pharmacy & Medical Supply; and Judith Mitchell, CEO of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

Held in the Rubin Arena of the Greene Complex for Sports and Recreation and attended by students, faculty, staff and guests, the event has become an annual tradition. PBA Provost Dr. Randy Richards gave the invocation, and Dr. Craig Hanson, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Global Development department, gave the benediction.

Read Novak's Remarks