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Leadership

Potbelly names former Wendy’s exec Robert Wright as president and CEO

Wright takes over at the struggling sandwich brand from Alan Johnson.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Struggling Potbelly Corp. on Monday announced former Wendy’s executive Robert Wright as its new president and CEO.

Wright previously ran operations for more than 6,000 Wendy’s units as executive vice president and chief operations officer. He has also held corporate roles at Charley’s Philly Steaks, Checker’s Drive-In Restaurants and Domino’s Pizza.

Wright succeeds Alan Johnson, who had served in the top post since December 2017. The Chicago-based sandwich chain did not provide an explanation for Johnson’s departure.

The fast casual had been struggling pre-pandemic, but has seen those difficulties intensify in recent months.

In May, it warned investors that it may not be able to survive the year after announcing that it may be forced to close up to 100 locations.

In June, Potbelly investor 180 Degree Capital, the chain’s largest shareholder, called the company’s performance “dreadful.”

In a letter, 180 Degree Capital said Potbelly’s stock performance is “unacceptable and clearly indicates new approaches are necessary.”

Potbelly’s same-store sales plunged nearly 70% early in the coronavirus crisis and had rebounded to minus 45% in May.

Wright will focus on turning around Potbelly’s business, including improving dine-in and off-premise guest experiences, enhancing brand positioning and reviewing the chain’s cost structure and asset base.

"We are thrilled to welcome a new leader with extensive restaurant operating experience," said Joe Boehm, Potbelly’s lead director, in a statement. "Bob’s ability to quickly identify and leverage brand strengths, as well as his substantial operations expertise, make him uniquely equipped to lead Potbelly during this critical time for our Company.  He drove dramatic improvement in guest satisfaction at Wendy’s, and Potbelly will greatly benefit from his vision, leadership, and drive to successfully transform our business. Bob also completed a transition of 1,100 company restaurants to franchise ownership during his time at Wendy’s, and we expect to leverage this experience as we return to system growth."

 

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