Buffalo Wild Wings announces CEO change

buffalo wild wings exterior

Under pressure from a dissident shareholder looking to grab control of Buffalo Wild Wings, longtime CEO Sally Smith said today that she will retire as the chain’s leader no later than Dec. 31.

Simultaneously, Smith withdrew her nomination for a seat on the franchisor’s board, and the board said it would not put forth another nominee. The move provides Marcato Capital with an opportunity to win more seats on the board. Today shareholders voted during the annual meeting to award two places to Marcato nominees. Elected were Scott Bergren, the former head of Chevys and a longtime executive of Yum Brands, and Mick McGuire, manageing partner of Marcato and an investor who's known for meddling in the companies within his firm's portfolio. 

Sam Rovit, a veteran of the packaged-foods industry, was also elected to a seat. He had been nominated by both Marcato and BWW's management.

Marcato, which owns rougly a 10% stake in BWW, had been lobbying fellow shareholders for months to elect its four nominees to the chain’s nine-person board. The current board had pushed back, noting that a remade board would rob the company of much-needed experience with the company and the restaurant industry. An organization of BWW came forward to voice its support for BWW's current management and directors.

BWW said it has already begun the search for Smith’s successor. She has served as CEO since 1996, and held the CFO’s job for two years beforehand.

She also resigned her post as president.

The announcement of her retirement came at the tail end of the company’s annual meeting. It had not been expected. Even earlier this week, Smith referred to entering retirement as a longrange possibility.

For months, Marcato and BWW’s current leadership have been waging a war of words about who should control the chain. Marcato specifically says it wants the franchisor to refranchise virtually all of its company-run stores, or some 600 units. BWW has maintained the move would be risky and financially imprudent.

Marcato’s criticism of the company’s culture has been pointed. It has accused Smith and her team of moving too slowly on some things, like embracing technology, and too rashly on others, such as diversifying into the fast-casual brands Rusty Taco and PizzaRev.


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