Clifford Hudson


I'm Clifford Hudson, a master of none. You can call me Cliff.

Life doesn’t need to trend toward rigidity and focus for us to be more successful and fulfilled. While some say my approach to career and life is not a legitimate strategy, my journey to the helm of Sonic as a Jack-of-All-Trades, would say otherwise.

In my book, Master of None, I share the greatest lessons I learned that emerged from my own personal discovery. For work and life to continually flourish, we must let it remain an unpredictable, unspecified circus. After all, variety is life’s multiplier of opportunity.

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"I don’t believe I’ve had the patience to master anything."

Discover Cliff's journey as a Jack-of-all-trades

The way Cliff sees it, life’s too short and too fascinating to focus on one area for too long. There are so many other things to see, do, and be. These are some of the milestones on his path as a master of none, Jack-of-All-Trades.


The start of a new journey

Master of None by Clifford Hudson book cover

Attorney, COO, CFO, president, CEO, chairman, and philanthropist are titles that Cliff is associated with, but it's not a complete description of who he is. As a master of none, he isn't done yet. On October 13th 2020, HarperCollins will publish his first book "Master of None", part memoir, part career guidelines for professionals at any level.


The end of an era at Sonic

Clifford Hudson in Times Square with Sonic on NASDAQ building

After 23 years as Sonic CEO, having built the brand from just more than $800 million to $4.5 billion in systemwide sales, Cliff oversaw the successful sale of Sonic to Inspire Brands. Upon his retirement in 2018, Leslie Smith Baugh, daughter of Sonic founder Troy Smith, noted that while her father had created the brand, Cliff received the credit for taking it national.


Ushering Sonic as a QSR Leader

Cliff Leads Sonic Innovation

From 2012-2018, Cliff led Sonic into a digital transformation phase that revolutionized the way the company engaged its consumers and strengthened its brand through point-of-sale technology, mobile apps, and an aggressive marketing campaign: a QSR company with customer engagement at its core.


Return of the Two Guys

Cliff led Sonic to new heights between 2012-2016, that scored a run of sales growth for five years with aggressive promotional programming that included new product promotions, social media channels, updates to the app, an increase in national cable spend, and the return of the industry-lauded campaign, "Two Guys".


Innovation PAYS

Sonic Innovation PAYS program

While not groundbreaking news today, Cliff capitalized on an actionable insight about women being twice as likely to purchase food at a store with a credit card. Armed with this data, he incubates the PAYS program where Sonic would offer a pay-at-the-pump type feature. The innovative program would yield incremental sales of $2.5 billion from 2003 through 2018.


Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Clifford Hudson in the SONIC tones band

From church choir to Glee Club, three decades later Cliff would take his musical talents as lead singer, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist of the SONIC Tones, an eight-member band made up of senior Sonic executives, to the 2003 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Battle of Corporate Bands. A lifelong musician brings his rock and roll dreams to life.


Spotting opportunity

Clifford Hudson with Sonic Drive Ins Ice Cream promotion

Innovation is everywhere, even in ice cream. You just have to spot it. Having discerned a franchisee’s innovation as a huge opportunity for Sonic, Cliff instituted the “Frozen and Fountain Favorites” program nationwide. Prior to the program, ice cream sales ranged from three to five percent. For the fiscal year following the implementation of the ice cream program, average store profits leapt almost 40% in 1997 and funded numerous expansion initiatives thereafter.


The Power of Yes

Clifford Hudson in front of a Sonic Drive In on the cover of the Oklahama Gazette

With degrees in history and law - not an MBA - Cliff had no corporate leadership experience prior to landing at Sonic. Yet, he kept saying yes to opportunities. While a disruptive word, yes is the kind of word that led him into new directions. He became CFO and learned a new skill and then took the helm of Sonic when the CEO abruptly resigned during a board meeting.


The SIPC Mission

Clifford Hudson SIPC

Putting his professional and business experience to good use, Cliff takes on a new mission when President Clinton appoints him as the chair of the board of directors of the Securities Investor Protection Corp. (SIPC). SIPC is a federally mandated nonprofit that helps protect investors from losses when brokerage firms fail.


The start of a sonic rise

Clifford Hudson VP article

Cliff joins Sonic Corp as general counsel. Over the span of 35 years, he applied three basic rules rooted in embracing variety and diversity in his career and life. His willingness to loosen the reins and explore many paths led him to a variety of roles as chief financial officer, chief operating officer, president, chief executive officer to chairman.


First Test as a Leader

Northwest Classen High School newspaper cutting announcing Clifford Hudson as Student Council president

As president of Northwest Classen High School Student Council, Cliff brings the value of harmony to a larger scale when he helped bring together the student council presidents from all of the city’s public high schools with a public appeal to parents to let students iron out difficulties in their schools, without parental interference. The press conference hit the front page of the newspaper the next day.


The Value of Harmony

Clifford Hudson in  his middle school Glee Club

Cliff's first official leadership position was president of his middle school Boys’ Glee Club. Like his journey to CEO, becoming president of the Glee Club was accidental but would prove to be vital in shaping his experience in business and music. Getting your group to sing together is one thing, teaching them to harmonize is another altogether.