BK recruits airline alum as new CMO

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New Burger King Corp. CEO John Dasburg is shuttling in a major-league management team to help speed its separation from parent Diageo. The beleaguered fast-food giant is expected to name at least two former Minnesota Twins executives for new posts-including Chris Clouser, the team's former CEO, as chief marketing officer.

Mr. Clouser was a confidant of Mr. Dasburg when the pair were at Northwest Airlines. Mr. Clouser worked at Northwest for more than eight years, rising to senior VP overseeing a portfolio that included advertising and communications, human resources, security and administration. In July 1999, he left Northwest for Internet travel site Preview Travel as president-CEO under a one-year deal.

After Preview and Travelocity merged, Mr. Clouser left in March 2000. Two months later, he joined the Minnesota Twins as CEO and served in that post until December. He left the Twins in part because he felt he didn't have enough autonomy from the family that owns the team, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Mr. Clouser declined to comment. But those close to him said it would not be a surprise if he rejoined his mentor at Burger King. "He's a brilliant, insightful marketer," said Jim Hornthal, vice chairman of Travelocity, who brought Mr. Clouser to Preview Travel. "He's had great success at Hallmark, Sprint, Northwest and Preview building brand awareness ... he's an absolute star."

Benjamin Hirst, former chief legal counsel for the Twins, has accepted the post of general counsel for Burger King, according to executives close to the company. Mr. Hirst, also formerly of Northwest, helped the airline stave off bankruptcy in the early '90s. He had been serving as a consultant to Burger King. He did not return calls.

A Burger King spokesman wouldn't confirm or deny any names of possible appointees, although he acknowledged that "people have been offered jobs and details of the new hires were still being finalized." Burger King last week announced a new management structure where four division heads would report to Mr. Dasburg: a chief marketing officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer and general counsel.

`MORE LIKE A PUBLIC COMPANY'

Consistent with the more centralized management structure, Burger King also eliminated the president-North America post held since August by Mikel Durham, who resigned April 18. With a more corporate structure, Burger King will "look more like a public company than it has ever looked," said a spokesman. "With public companies, you need a whole new set of requirements, skills, talents and resources around financial requirements and disclosures."

The moves make the company better suited for separation from Diageo, as Mr. Dasburg has already been exploring the merits of a 2002 leveraged buyout with investment firm Texas Pacific Group, according to news reports. That's not to rule out the partial public offering previously announced by Diageo or other options being considered. Regardless, Mr. Dasburg is preparing to move quickly.

"You can't sell anything that's not fixed," said Steve Lewis, president of Burger King's National Franchisee Association. While he said he'd like to see the separation happen this year, depending on the format, "it's going to come down to due diligence," he said. "You've got to understand what you're buying."

ANCHOR-FRANCHISE PACTS

The franchisee group has had three meetings over the past six weeks regarding a number of issues, including concerns over how franchisee marketing funds have been used, according to an executive close the association. "They don't trust what's been happening in Miami," the executive said.

On April 18, Mr. Dasburg also put an end to the anchor franchise agreements that gave certain operators exclusive expansion rights and angered smaller franchisees. It is an important move considering that most opportunities for growth are in the western region, which is dominated by other chains.

Already, Mr. Dasburg appears to have have impressed franchisees. "There's no doubt in my mind that [Mr. Dasburg] can do it," Mr. Lewis said. Executives will outline to franchisees their vision for an independent Burger King this week in Manhattan at the annual NFA convention.

What it means for Burger King's agencies, Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, and Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, is unclear. The Twins' agency is Hunt Adkins, Minneapolis; at Northwest, he worked with Interpublic's Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, for U.S. advertising, and WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, for international.

Agencies will likely see little changes, as Stephan Bomhard, senior VP-marketing for North America is expected to stay, according to phone calls executives at the fast-feeder made last week to agencies. "Stephan will report to the new CMO so we don't expect much to change," said one agency executive.

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