A long lead time didn’t make the change at the top any less dramatic for Wendy’s, one of the quick-service sector’s best-performing brands in recent years. The burger chain has been flying high since Emil Brolick took control in 2011 as CEO, the job that had eluded him under prior management, prompting a defection to Taco Bell.
Brolick sharpened the chain’s focus on quality, revamping its signature burger, ending flirtations with breakfast and deli sandwiches, and aiming to outstrip customers’ expectations of what they could expect from a fast-food outlet.
Everything was going well when Brolick announced in October 2015 that he would retire in March, ending his high-profile run. His designated successor was Todd Penegor, CFO for the prior three years. Wendy’s operations-steeped culture has been suspicious of financial types in the past, but Penegor had the bona fides: His father had been a single-store Wendy’s franchisee, and he’d literally grown up with the company.
Penegor, who took over in May, has largely continued down the path Brolick had lit. For instance, he was quick to counter speculation that Wendy’s would diversify into new concepts and meal occasions. A Japanese restaurant brand called First Kitchen would not be exported to the United States, he told the Wendy’s hometown paper, and breakfast was not a priority, despite the spotlight it was getting from other quick-service chains. But he has indicated he’ll step up international expansion.