'Time to pass leadership'
"I am proud to have been part of Wendy's for three decades. ... I believe it is the appropriate time to pass the leadership of the brand to the next generation of leaders," John "Jack" Schuessler, 55, said in a statement.
The marketer's board elected Executive VP-Chief Financial Officer Kerrii B. Anderson to serve as interim president-CEO, and 24-year board member James V. Pickett as chairman, starting immediately. Mr. Pickett, chairman of the Pickett Realty Advisors in Dublin, Ohio, is lead director for the board and chair of the nominating and corporate governance committee. Mr. Schuessler will consult with the company for two years.
18 months of turmoil
The moves are the latest tremors in a seismic 18 months of sales declines, a management and organizational shakeup, shareholder activism that led to a board expansion and, two weeks ago, a franchisee secession. Franchisees later this month will hold a meeting of the Old Fashioned Franchisee Association, an independent association representing 13% of the chain's stores.
A company spokesman denied that Mr. Schuessler's retirement was driven by an activist shareholder and now board member, Nelson Peltz, or from the franchisee unrest. "It was his decision," said a Wendy's spokesman, while confirming that the board meeting wasn't a regularly scheduled one. "With the company focusing on new strategies and opportunities Jack and the board decided that it was time for new leadership."
The company also announced further changes to breathe life back into the once high-flying company. Wendy's board set two small working committees to drive further changes "to make Wendy's even more vibrant and attractive for customers and franchisees, as well as optimizing shareholder value," said Mr. Pickett, in the statement. The Dublin, Ohio-based company said it also will work to enhance its emphasis on operational excellence and the needs of Wendy's outstanding franchisees.
For the coming months, the marketer set three priorities: to strengthen the core Wendy's business with improved operations, new products and more effective marketing; execute "strategic" initiatives to spin off the remainder of the Tim Horton's doughnut chain and pursue options for the Baja Fresh chain; and cut costs based on recommendations from consultant Booz Allen Hamilton. Wendy's already offered 17.25% of Tim Hortons in a public offering and has hired Goldman Sachs to consider options for Baja Fresh.
Many of the marketer's recent efforts coincided with the early March announcement that three executives linked to Mr. Peltz's Trian Fund Management want to "unlock" value from the company's assets. The fund owns 7.7% of company shares. Wendy's added to the board Trian executives Peter H. Rothschild and Stuart I. Oran; and Jerry W. Levin, a former Pillsbury executive and former chairman-CEO of Sunbeam and Revlon.
To hire executive search firm
Wendy's will announce more specific information at its annual shareholder meeting April 27. Meanwhile, the company plans to hire an executive-search firm to vet internal and external candidates for the permanent CEO post, of which Ms. Andersen, 48, is an internal candidate, a spokesman said. "Kerrii has demonstrated excellent strategic management in many key areas of the corporation over the past six years," Mr. Pickett said in a statement. "She has a passion for the Wendy's business, is committed to strong relationships with our franchisees and has the respect and support of Wendy's management team. Our entire board supports Kerrii in her new role and we look forward to working with her in the coming months."
The marketer also named Brendan P. Foley, 46, as senior VP-controller and assistant secretary, succeeding Dan Boone, 62, VP-technical compliance and consolidations, as he transitions into retirement.