Paulo Pena, the former McDonald’s executive who was named CEO of big Burger King franchisee Carrols Restaurant Group last year, died unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve, the company said on Tuesday. He was 50.
Anthony Hull, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based company’s chief financial officer, was named interim CEO until a permanent successor is found.
“We are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of our friend and colleague Paulo Pena,” David Harris, chairman of Carrols, said in a statement. “While his time at Carrols was relatively short, his impact on the company and its business was undeniable.”
Pena took over as chief executive of the 1,000-unit operator in April of last year for longtime chief executive Daniel Accordino. Pena had overseen operations with a hotel company called Selina, but before that he oversaw operations at 800 corporate McDonald’s restaurants.
His task was to improve profitability at Burger King’s largest U.S. operator, a business that had struggled from its franchisor’s weak sales along with its own heavy debt load, the result of years of aggressive acquisitions. Carrols had started to see some progress on its sales and profitability in the third quarter.
Harris called Pena “a visionary leader who created a culture of operational excellence and put the customer at the forefront of everything we do.”
He added that Carrols would “build upon the progress we have made under his leadership.”
Carrols also named Joseph Hoffman its new chief restaurant officer, a position created to oversee restaurant operations. He took the position on Jan. 1. Hoffman had been SVP of operations and has worked for the company since 1993.
Tragedy and retirements have led to major turnover of top management with Carrols. Longtime CFO Paul Flanders died in 2019. He was replaced by Hull. Then Accordino retired after 50 years with the company, and he was replaced by Pena.
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