Exclusive: Burger King trawls for yet another leader

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Burger King is on the hunt for a new CEO, Advertising Age has learned. Finding one will be a whopper of a task.

Within the past month, board members and executives representing the nation's No. 2 fast-food chain have interviewed potential candidates and asked for recommendations for the post currently held by Brad Blum, according to knowledgeable executives. But given the rapid turnover in the chain's executive suite-it's had nine CEOs in the last 15 years-candidates aren't lining up.

Industry observers mentioned outgoing Coca-Cola Co. President Steven J. Heyer among those the chain could target. "It's a natural fit," said one investment executive.

The revolving door at Burger King has disrupted marketing strategies and led to multiple agency changes, a lack of focus and directional shifts. In January, Burger King named Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, as its lead marketing agency, moving the account from Y&R Advertising, New York, after just nine months.

"They're going to have some real trouble finding the right person for this," said an executive contacted by Burger King. Owners and franchisees are "never satisfied, and people never are satisfied very long in these competitive categories."

The executive, who had discussions with two people close to Burger King, indicated there was dissatisfaction with current management. "They said there was an opportunity for someone to come in and lend some discipline," the executive said.

"It was not a full-court press to recruit," he said. "It was more informal."

no comment

Mr. Blum took office only 18 months ago. He did not return calls for comment. Burger King's owners-a private equity group led by Texas Pacific Group, along with Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners-did not return calls, and board members reached declined to comment.

The relationship between Mr. Blum and the franchisees has had its ups and downs, and the chain's National Franchisee Association sparred with the CEO numerous times. In early May, Mr. Blum and NFA officers Dan Fitzpatrick and Julian Josephson openly clashed over the chain's poor performance during a franchisee meeting, according to several attendees. Messrs. Fitzpatrick and Josephson declined to comment.

Things have since improved somewhat. The search comes as Burger King this month reported its fourth month of positive sales at stores open more than a year. The company credited new products, including the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich, as well as a tie-in with the summer blockbuster "Shrek 2."

Burger King this month promoted John Chidsey to president-chief operating officer, North America, after four months as chief financial officer-chief administrative officer. Some speculated the move provides stability if Mr. Blum leaves the company.

A decision could be close; Burger King's board met June 16 and its fiscal year closes June 30.

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