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Cliff Hudson to retire as Sonic CEO

Claudia San Pedro will lead the company after it is sold to Inspire Brands.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Cliff Hudson, who guided Sonic Corp.’s growth from a largely Southern brand into a nationwide drive-in chain, plans to retire as CEO after Sonic’s sale to Inspire Brands is completed, the company said Wednesday.

Claudia San Pedro, named Sonic’s president in February, will lead the 3,600-unit brand once the Inspire sale closes following shareholder approval, expected to take place in December.

San Pedro will report to Paul Brown, Inspire’s CEO.

“Only two men, Troy Smith and Cliff Hudson, have led Sonic through most of its 65 years,” said Leslie Smith Baugh, Troy Smith’s daughter who is still engaged in the Sonic business through its real estate, in a statement.

“My dad bought a small walkup root beer stand in 1953 in Shawnee, Okla. Out of that Sonic was born with its canopies, speakers, carhops and, at the center of it all, franchisees,” she added. “Cliff, while maintaining the values and traditions, took Sonic to a place of national recognition in the restaurant world.”

Hudson joined Sonic in 1984 as an assistant general counsel and was appointed as its CEO in 1995 when the company had 1,500 drive-ins in 27 states.

Today, Sonic has 3,600 locations in 45 states and systemwide sales of $4.5 billion. Only Troy Smith led the company for longer, from 1953 through 1983.  

“Leading the company and brand Troy Smith founded 65 years ago has been the pleasure of a lifetime,” Hudson said in a statement. “I know he would be proud of the growth that both the company and our franchisees have achieved.”

San Pedro has been with Sonic for 12 years, having joined the company as its treasurer in 2006 and then as its vice president of investor relations. She was named CFO in 2015.

Hudson said that San Pedro “has shown terrific leadership and deep strategic insight” during her time at Sonic. “I’m confident she is the right person to lead Sonic going forward.”

Inspire Brands, the owner of Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, agreed to buy Sonic in September in a deal valued at $2.3 billion.

“Cliff is a remarkable leader and visionary whose accomplishments at Sonic and the restaurant industry have long been admired,” Brown said in a statement. “Claudia’s skill and vision are well respected within our industry, and I look forward to working with her to ensure that Sonic has the capabilities and resources it needs for long-term growth.”

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