Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Let's hear it for the old guys

Being of a certain vintage, I took great delight in the two major executive changes of the past week. Old guys, it seems, are making a comeback.

To wit: Phil Hickey, one of the most capable guys ever to grace a restaurant company’s corner office, took over the CEO’s responsibilities at O’Charley’s after the departure of the considerably younger Jeff Warne. It’s not that Phil’s hobbling around on a walker, or that Jeff skateboarded to work each day. But the former is of that generation that’s becoming a rarity in the foodservice executive suite these days, the top-level official who worked his or her way up from a unit-level post.

Along the way, Hickey picked up more than a few bucks by shepherding the sale of his last big company, LongHorn Steakhouse parent Rare Hospitality, to Red Lobster operator Darden Restaurants. I seem to recall some notation in a proxy that the deal turned Hickey’s stock into tens of millions of greenbacks.

In short, he doesn’t have to work anymore. But his wisdom and operational know-how are needed once again to right a chain and steer it forward. Hickey, an O’Charley’s director, will stay at the helm until a new CEO is piped aboard. It’s enough to make me want to turn a cartwheel. If only there wasn’t that danger of throwing out my back or scuffing my spats.

But he’s not the only veteran with a memory of rotary phones to be called off the bench in the last few days. Out on the West Coast, Grill Concepts filled the vacancy left by the departure of Philip Gay with Bob Spivak, the concept’s founder and longtime chief. At age 66, he’s back running the operation he founded in 1984. It now consists of 28 upscale Daily Grill and Grill on the Alley restaurants, along with a lone fast-casual variation, Short Order – Daily Grill.

Could I get a “23 skeedoo!” on that, folks?

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