Ron Shaich to step down as Panera CEO

Ron Shaich is relinquishing his duties as CEO of Panera Bread Co. to Blaine Hurst, the bakery-café chain’s president, to pursue strategic initiatives for owner JAB Holdings like the just-announced acquisition of Au Bon Pain.

In announcing the change, which takes effect Jan. 1, Panera noted that Shaich will remain involved with Panera as well as JAB, and will retain his post as Panera’s chairman. The title he will hold at JAB was not revealed.

The announcement also noted that Shaich would continue to hold a “significant” stake in the company.

However, the statement indicated that Panera’s longtime and much-praised leader will reduce his corporate duties to spend more time on personal pursuits and the management of outside investments. Shaich is an avid proponent of conscious capitalism, a business orientation that values strong social paybacks as well as financial returns.

He has also professed an interest in politics, and was expected from time to time to seek elected office.

Shaich was the architect of what’s been called Panera 2.0, a transformation of the bakery-cafe chain into a next-generation concept that uses technology to facilitate delivery and takeout service as well as dine-in business.

His behind-the-scenes leader in that effort was Hurst, a one-time Papa John’s president with a background in technology. Before taking the president’s post at Panera, Hurst served as EVP of technology and transformation.

“This is the right time for me to step down as CEO while staying involved in the business as chairman,” Shaich said in a prepared statement. “I’ve now completed 36 years as a leader of our company and I’m particularly pleased to be able to say that Panera has been the best-performing restaurant stock of the last 20 years.”

The announcement of Shaich’s change in responsibilities came minutes after Panera disclosed plans to buy Au Bon Pain, the bakery-cafe concept that propelled Shaich and late business partner Louis Kane to prominence. The company that would become Panera eventually sold Au Bon Pain to focus on what was then called St. Louis Bread. The concept was rechristened Panera.

JAB acquired Panera in July for about $7.5 billion.

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