CEAS Alumnus Roger McClendon Thrives as First-ever YUM! Brands CSO

By:     Ashley Duvelius
Date:  April 14, 2017

Setting a precedent as the first McDonald’s All American High School basketball player to play UC basketball, the All-American CEAS ’91 alumnus sets yet another precedent as the first Chief Sustainability Officer of YUM! Brands, Inc.

Roger McClendon

Roger McClendon, well-known as the four-year starter who closed his University of Cincinnati (UC) men’s basketball career as No. 2 scorer, second only to Oscar Robertson at the time, is considered the Bearcats player of the decade from the 1980’s and was inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. He graduated from the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), majoring in electrical engineering in ’91.  He has now set a new precedent as Chief Sustainability Officer of YUM! Brands, Inc. and his inaugural role is crucial to YUM!’s future in the restaurant industry.

YUM! is the world’s largest restaurant company, with over 43,000 restaurants and more than 1.5 million employees in over 135 countries. YUM! is the parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC and is based in Louisville, KY.

McClendon is the billion dollar company’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), a role he convinced YUM’s CEO, David Novak to create in 2010.  As an engineer who had worked in multiple functions of the company, he saw an opportunity for the company to utilize and leverage sustainability as a strategic framework for their ongoing business success.

“Sustainability is not just a word to me, it’s a core value. I encourage customers and leaders alike to look holistically at the industry to make the largest impact—ensuring that each year you are doing more for people and the planet than the last,” says McClendon.

And a large impact is certainly what McClendon has had during his tenure with YUM! Brands.

Charged with ensuring that all brand restaurants are operating efficiently while minimizing environmental impact through innovation, he continues to make the company a leader in environmental and social responsibility. Under his guidance, YUM! has eliminated the release of almost 1.2 million metric tons of CO2—that’s the equivalent of removing 225K cars off the road!

McClendon and his team created a streamlined path to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED, for his design and construction teams called the Blueline—a sustainable restaurant design, build, operate, and maintain standard. It uses key restaurant relevant aspects of LEED paired with the proven, actionable solutions in areas such as lighting and optimized hood exhaust. With the Blueline standard approach, he’s overseen the construction of over 30 LEED certified restaurants across nine countries and has reduced YUM!’s energy consumption by a staggering 30% in Shanghai and Beijing.  The Blueline technologies have been scaled and implemented in over 5,000 Yum restaurants around the globe to date and continues to expand.

To further promote energy efficiency and find more routes to reduce YUM!’s carbon footprint, McClendon has garnered the support of the United States Green Building Council as well as the US Department of Energy’s Better Building Alliance and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

McClendon has 30+ years of manufacturing plant operations and restaurant experience paired with expertise in engineering, new product development and quality assurance.

He asserts, “My UC CEAS engineering education was paramount in developing my professional skills and applying the academic theory to the real-world. These life-long lessons and skills coupled with my technical skills became a competitive advantage along my career journey including the position I hold in my company today.”

Prior to his current role, McClendon served as Senior Director of Yum! Brands Global Engineering and Facilities with a focus on energy and water conservation. He previously served as Senior Project Engineering Manager for Yum! Restaurants International (YRI), where he supervised KFC Global Engineering initiatives in Australia, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. McClendon was also the Director of Global Engineering for Long John Silver’s and A&W Multi-branding.

Outside of the office, McClendon devotes his time and energy to giving back to the community that presented him with limitless opportunities throughout the years. He states his world revolves around Faith, Family, Community, and Career, in that order of priority as he calls it:  F-squared, C-squared.

McClendon (second from left) with CEAS Dean Teik C. Lim (far left), Senior Director of CEAS Development, Mike Hogan (far right), and The Animated Colonel Sanders.

McClendon (second from left) with CEAS Dean Teik C. Lim (far left), Senior Director of CEAS Development, Mike Hogan (far right), and The Animated Colonel Sanders.

Shortly after graduating from UC, McClendon was the co-founder of ICS Computer Technical Training Center for Youth in Cincinnati. He was also a volunteer for the McClendon Institute for Learning Outreach Programs in Dayton. McClendon served on the Louisville Sports Commission Board of Directors and is a current board member of the Louisville Kentucky African American Heritage Center. Over the years, he has helped support several AAU Basketball Programs in the city of Louisville, such as Louisville Magic and the Focus Basketball Academy.

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the NAFEM Global Engineering Meeting Award from China and Japan, and the Yum! Global Engineering Innovation Award.

Originally from Charleston, West Virginia, McClendon moved to Endicott, New York when he was four years old and then to Champaign, Illinois in the eighth grade, when his father, John, accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois.

In 1984, McClendon emerged from Centennial High School as a McDonald’s All-American, one of the top 25 high school basketball players in the nation. McDonald’s All-Americans are the gold standard in college hoops recruiting, and combined with his strong ACT scores, McClendon was never short of scholarship offers.

“My Mom, Dad, and my high school coach, Coach Coleman Carrodine, saw my potential from very early on and really pushed me to be the best, both academically and athletically. We spent hours and hours on drills, perfecting moves that launched me into my collegiate basketball career,” reflects McClendon.

With a love for challenges and problem-solving, McClendon knew early on that he wanted to pursue the field of engineering. And so, he and his family set out to find the top engineering schools in the nation.

McClendon’s top five schools were the University of Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois, Vanderbilt, and the University of Louisville. Seeking a holistic college experience, he interviewed each prospective university, using 25 questions such as; Would I be allowed to be late to basketball practice due to lab? Would I be allowed to grow a mustache or a beard if I wanted to?

McClendon had always had his eye on the UC though. He says, “Georgia Tech didn’t have anything on the UC CEAS engineering cooperative education program.” Also known as co-op, CEAS is the birthplace of the experience-based learning program that is integrated into its curriculum, allowing students to graduate with one full year of industry experience.

He continues, “Not to mention, UC had a long-standing tradition of basketball excellence with hoop powerhouses such as Oscar Robertson, Jack Twyman, and Tony Yates. I wanted to help bring championships back to UC!”

McClendon also noted the city of Cincinnati itself was greatly appealing as it is home to more Fortune 500s per capita than New York or L.A.

McClendon was one of the first McDonald’s All-Americans to enroll at UC and as an athlete, he required special permission from the CEAS dean at the time, Dr. Louis McNeal Laushey, to play on the men’s basketball team while enrolled in the College’s electrical engineering (EE) program.

He recalls, “The dean encouraged me to put some deep thought into my concurrent pursuit of an engineering degree and a collegiate basketball career, a combination that surely spelled ‘challenge.’... But I acknowledged and accepted that challenge head-on—I wanted to excel both academically and athletically and I was determined to do just that.”

Roger McClendon (second from left) with his wife, Suzanne, and four children, Deja, Maya, Marquis and Jordan.

Roger McClendon (second from left) with his wife, Suzanne, and four children, Deja, Maya, Marquis and Jordan.


He recounts that being a student-athlete while earning his BS in EE was indeed a very challenging endeavor. He explains, “Professors like Dr. Osterbrock and others wanted to ensure we were prepared to represent Engineering with excellence, quality, and competency as we earned the right to graduate and enter into the real-world.  The program also instilled a strong sense of Bearcat Pride and confidence which created a mindset that we were prepared and capable of solving complex problems creating a better future.”

McClendon states the experience that prepared him most for his career was his participation in the co-op program. For his first co-op rotation, McClendon worked for Gus Perdikakis Associates, Inc. While at the firm, he previewed the business operations side of engineering as it pertains to consumer products manufacturing, original equipment manufacturing, utilities, retail, and consulting.

McClendon travelled to Costa Rica and Machala, Ecuador for his second and third co-op assignments with Chiquita Brands International. He spent two quarters at each location (a year in total), affording him the opportunity to apply his engineering and technical skills while acquiring unparalleled agricultural knowledge such as the fruit ripening process that guarantees Chiquita’s high-quality “Blue Sticker” promise.

He describes, “My international work with Chiquita allowed me to practice engineering while learning new cultures, language, and the art of business very early in my professional career. My co-op experiences equipped me with the tools to succeed in my field.”

McClendon looks back fondly on many memories on campus, including being a co-campaign manager with his friend William Tolliver supporting the Student Body President Candidate. He also holds in high regard the time he played Wardell Stephen "Dell" Curry I at Virginia Tech— the father of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors—whom he says was a worthy opponent. He considers one of his proudest achievements of his collegiate basketball career to be shooting a 3 point percentage of 47% and being a part of the Metro All -Conference Team, helping lead the team to post-season tournament (NIT) as a freshman.

He also met his college sweetheart at UC during his freshman year, Suzanne Edwards McClendon, with whom he recently celebrated 28 years of marriage. Together they have four children: Deja, Maya, Marquis and Jordan.

Today, though in the land of the Cardinals, McClendon remains an avid Bearcat fan at heart. He has supported and hosted several UCATs events at YUM! Headquarters in Louisville over the years and he also serves on the UC Advisory Board Athletic Hall of Fame Selection Committee.