BK needs a true keeper of flame

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Burger King flips chief executives and agencies as fast as it flips burgers. In the past 15 years, it's had nine CEOs and eight general-market ad agencies. The floundering fast-feeder is doing a superb job of wrecking a brand through constant upheaval. But it's fixable. Burger King needs to recruit a powerful, change-oriented CEO and give him or her freedom and time to execute without meddling by investors and with support from franchisees. In short, Burger King needs a king (or queen).

The contrast of McDonald's resurgent brand with a plan and its rival's flameout of flip-flops is startling. McDonald's revived a faded franchise over the past year by retooling everything from marketing and image to product and service. It's had 14 consecutive months of comparable-store sales growth for U.S. restaurants open more than a year, with 2004 year-to-date sales growth the best since 1973. The stock over the past year doubled from a 10-year low. McDonald's is leading.

Burger King, locked inside conglomerates since 1967, has made progress since Texas Pacific Group led a buyout in December 2002. With an improved menu and some attention-getting ads, it's generated comp-store sales growth during four consecutive recent months. But one thing hasn't changed: Management and agency churn under the new owners, who are onto their second agency (Crispin Porter & Bogusky) and must fill the CEO slot after Brad Blum's unceremonious exit.

Who knows how long Burger King's private-equity investors will stick around before they flip it. Such investors tend to cash out at some point. More than 90% of Burger Kings are owned by franchisees, who are in this for the long haul. It's in the interest of investors and franchisees to see Burger King flourish. That takes leadership. It takes a resolve by the investors and franchisees to give the next CEO the power to build the kingdom. It takes a confident CEO committed to a long-term plan. It should be good to be the king-but that's up to Burger King.

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