BURGER KING GETS NEW CEO

Texas Pacific Group Moves Quickly After Chain's Acquisition

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Less than a week after closing its acquisition of Burger King from Diageo, the new ownership group led by Texas Pacific Group today named Bradley Blum CEO to succeed John Dasburg, who will continue as chairman.

Mr. Blum, formerly vice chairman of Darden Restaurants and interim president of Smokey Bones barbecue chain, will assume the new position at the Miami headquarters of Burger King on Jan. 6.

Turnaround specialist
Mr. Blum, 48, earlier was president of Darden chain Olive Garden and is credited with turning around the fortunes of the Italian casual dinnerhouse. Since joining Darden in 1994 as senior vice president for marketing after 16 years of selling cereal and desserts for then parent General Mills, he reversed a sales slide and led the chain to 33 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth.

Among the highlights Mr. Blum's tenure at General Mills was his participation in the launch and management of its international cereal venture called Cereal Partners Worldwide and his decision to put Olympic gymnast

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"Throughout my career, I have found inspiration in taking on large challenges," Mr. Blum said in a statement. "Facing the challenges at Olive Garden helped prepare me to address the new opportunities at Burger King."

Highly respected
While his background lacks experience in the fast-food segment, Mr. Blum is widely thought of as one of the best marketers in the restaurant category. He was one of two executives considered by many to be in line to succeed Darden Chairman-CEO Joe Lee.

Darden's has become a darling restaurant stock on Wall Street because of its strong leadership development program, operations excellence and market performance. Observers consider Mr. Blum's casual-dining experience will be an asset as quick-service chains like Burger King are taking a beating from casual-dining and quick-casual chains that many believe provide superior customer experiences and convenience.

"It's going to be a big job, but Brad is a seasoned and experienced restaurant executive and he was brought into Darden to do a turnaround for Olive Garden," said Allan Hickok, restaurant analyst for U.S Bancorp Piper Jaffray. "What Brad has going for him is he gets to work with the Whopper, which I still believe has one of the best brand equities in the burger business."

'Creative visionary'
"We want to be a company that provides opportunities for our leaders inside the Darden family and we recognize that others in the restaurant industry, like Burger King, will also appreciate the depth of our talent," Mr. Lee said. "We'll miss Brad. He is a talented and creative visionary who helped build Darden Restaurants into an industry leader."

At Orlando, Fla.-based Darden, Dick Rivera, 55, becomes president and chief operating officer of the parent from co-vice chairman. He also has served as interim president of Bahama Breeze since August when Gary Heckel stepped down. Clarence Otis, executive vice president and chief financial officer, becomes president of the Smokey Bones chain, retaining his role at Darden as executive vice president. Mr. Otis, 46, succeeds Mr. Blum, who was serving as interim president after the August resignation of Bob Mock, who left the chain in order to deal with family health problems.

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