Red Lobster names former Chili's chief Kelli Valade CEO

Currently Black Box CEO, Valade will succeed Kim Lopdrup at the seafood giant on Aug. 2.
Red Lobster CEO
Photo courtesy of Red Lobster

Red Lobster has hired former Chili’s Grill & Bar president and current Black Box Intelligence chief Kelli Valade to succeed Kim Lopdrup as CEO, effective Aug. 2.

The announcement came six days after Lopdrup announced he would relinquish the top job at the seafood chain as soon as a replacement was named and in place. He has served as CEO for seven years, and led the brand for another seven as president, from 2004 through 2011.

"When I announced my plan to retire, I promised our people we would recruit an outstanding new CEO to lead Red Lobster to even greater success over the next generation, and I absolutely believe Kelli is that person," said Lopdrup. "Her experience and deep industry insights coupled with her integrity and commitment to fostering a purpose-driven culture are the perfect fit as we begin this new chapter."

For Valade, who began her restaurant career at age 16 as a hostess in upstate New York, the job change marks a return to the operator side of the business. She has led Black Box, the research company founded by Joni and Wally Doolin, since 2019. A controlling interest in Black Box was sold to the private-equity firm Diversis Capital Partners in January.

Beforehand, Valade was president of Chili’s during a pivotal time for the brand. Significant changes in the brand’s menu had not been well-received by customers. Valade led a senior management team from store to store to apologize to crewmembers, who bore the brunt of the complaints, and promise them that the brand would get back on track. It did.

In her 22 years with Chili’s parent company, Brinker International, Valade also served as COO and SVP of human relations. She was succeeded as Chili’s president by Wyman Roberts, who assumed the job while continuing to serve as CEO. He still holds the title of Chili’s president.

In her upcoming role, “my job as the brand's new leader is to inspire and develop our people while also leveraging the brand's strengths and finding ways to build on them for even greater success,” Valade said in a statement. “I am looking forward to a very bright future together."

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