Kelli Valade is leaving her post as president of the Chili’s casual-dining brand to become CEO and president of the TDn2K research firm in January.
Wyman Roberts, CEO of Chili’s parent Brinker International, will assume Valade’s duties until a permanent replacement is found, the company announced. Roberts had been president of Chili’s for seven years before relinquishing the job to Valade and stepping up to CEO of Brinker.
“I’m not sure I can find the words to express how extremely proud I am of Kelli and all that she’s accomplished,” Roberts said in a statement. “I’ve seen firsthand the impact she’s made at Brinker and Chili’s and now she will help impact the entire industry.”
Valade had been with Chili’s in a variety of roles for 22 years. She rose to the president’s post through a variety of operational posts, and was known for being a hands-on leader who could connect with field-level staffers because she’d been one of them.
At one point, she was part of a team that traveled from store to store, apologizing to the staffs because the home office had made the mistake of changing the menu too radically and alienating core customers. Valade let them know the company appreciated how the crews had been on the frontlines in dealing with the dismayed loyal patrons, and assured them their input would be more readily appreciated going forward.
More recently, she led Chili’s simplification of the casual giant’s menu, trimming it by 75 items, or 40%, and putting the focus back on its core products: burgers, fajitas, ribs and margaritas.
Roberts cited those efforts in announcing positive same-store domestic sales for Chili’s for the fourth quarter ended July 27.
Valade was named Chili’s president in mid-2016.
She has been affiliated with TDn2K and its owners, Joni and Wally Doolin, for as long as she’s been part of Chili’s. At a TDn2K event several years ago, she recounted how she’d stayed with the Doolins when she arrived in Dallas several decades ago from upstate New York to redirect her restaurant career. At the time, she worked as an intern for what would become TDn2K, and helped draft the business plan for People Report, the company’s first research venture.
Both Chili’s and TDn2K are based in Dallas.
Joni Doolin is currently the CEO of TDn2K, and Wally Doolin is co-founder and chairman. They will become co-chairmen of their company when Valade joins them in January, and will remain active in day-to-day operations, according to a TDn2K representative.
TDn2K is the parent company of three research brands: People Report, which tracks personnel trends and compiles various employment metrics for chain restaurants; Black Box Intelligence, which tracks restaurant sales, same-store sales and traffic; and White Box Social Intelligence, which monitors social media chatter about restaurant brands and their perception by customers.
“This was an incredibly tough decision to leave a brand that I absolutely love and taught me the power of making people feel special,” said Valade. “I’ve been honored to be part of the amazing momentum the ChiliHeads have created and can’t wait to see what’s next for the team.”