This morning brought the news that Greg Burns, a leader of the O’Charley’s dinnerhouse chain for 25 years, will step down early next year as CEO and chairman. It’s the latest indication that a changing of the guard is quietly taking place in the restaurant industry as executives who spent a lifetime in the business surrender the helm to newer and presumably more mainstream talent.
O’Charley’s said it hasn’t yet chosen Burns’ successor. But look at some of the replacements that have been named for exiting long-timers. Nigel Travis is stepping into the CEO’s job at Dunkin’ Donuts’ parent company with deep experience in internet sales, international business and retail marketing. The internet wasn’t even known when the standout he’s succeeding, Jon Luther, was starting his career.
Wendy’s had a long tradition of putting operational specialists in the corner office, starting with Dave Thomas, continuing through the legendary Jim Near and the highly respected Gordon Teeter, and then ending with Jack Schussler. Leading the company since its acquisition by Arby’s owner is Roland Smith, a veteran of the golf, bowling, soft drink and pharmaceutical industries. He’s a West Point grad.
Not all of the long-timers exiting top posts are being followed by newcomers with such extensive resumes. Dick Frank, for example, is surrendering his leadership of Chuck E. Cheese to Mike Magusiak, a protégée and longtime exec of the pizza-and-games chain. But Magusiak has a background in finance, having served as CFO. Frank was hailed for his operational and marketing know-how.
And not all the replacements have been named yet. Big Boy, for instance, said it’s still searching for a replacement for Tony Michaels, its longtime leader and an even longer-time veteran of the restaurant industry, including stints with Marriott.
The list of other industry greybeards to step down in recent months include Russ Owens, the casual-dining vet who had been leading P.F. Chang’s Pei Wei Asian Diner fast-casual operation; and Paul Motenko and Jerry Hennessey, the co-founders of BJ’s, who have left the board of that seemingly recession-resistant frontrunner to rev up for a new venture.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the counter-current of long-timers getting back into the business. Yesterday, for instance, the new owners of Romano’s Macaroni Grill released the stunning news that the chain would now be led by Olive Garden vet Brad Blum, a brilliant move on the buyer’s part. And Ned Lidvall, perhaps best known for his leadership of Rock Bottom Breweries, will now be leading Friendly’s.