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Leadership

Wyman Roberts is retiring as Brinker International CEO

Kevin Hochman, president of KFC U.S., will head Chili’s parent company. Dyke Shipp, KFC’s division president, will replace him at KFC for the short-term.
Chili's sign
Photograph: Shutterstock

Wyman Roberts is retiring from Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's and Maggiano's, after nearly 10 years as its CEO and president.

He will be replaced by Kevin Hochman, the president of KFC's U.S., business, Brinker said Monday.

Roberts, 63, has been with Brinker for more than 17 years, serving as president of its two brands as well as CMO before ascending to the top job. As CEO, he oversaw a period of major growth at Chili's, with total sales up 23.4% over the past decade, according to Technomic. Much of that growth came from the brand's aggressive expansion overseas.

Most recently, Roberts helped guide the company through the pandemic, which included the launch of the innovative It's Just Wings virtual chicken wing brand. Roberts' efforts earned him a nomination for a Restaurant Leader of the Year Award from Restaurant Business.

"It has been a privilege to lead and be a part of this great company," he said in a statement.

Roberts' last day will be June 5, and he'll take on an advisory role for 12 months to help smooth the transition, Brinker said.

"Wyman is a leader with that special ability to make big strategic decisions in a way that makes individual Guests feel special at tables in our restaurants around the world," said Brinker Chairman Joe DePinto in a statement. DePinto added that his investments in people, operations and technology have "set our company up for continued success in the future."

On June 6, Brinker will put that future in the hands of Hochman, the Yum Brands executive who has been widely credited for helping overhaul KFC’s U.S. business since taking over in March 2017. Brinker chose him for the role after what it said was an extensive search.

"Kevin is a talented leader and innovative thinker with strategic vision, passion and a successful track record of building brands," DePinto said.

Hochman came to KFC U.S. in 2014, after more than 19 years at consumer products company Procter & Gamble. He was initially the chain’s U.S. chief marketing officer. He was named the brand’s president in 2017. Under Hochman, KFC used innovative marketing to gain attention for the brand, using a series of actors and comedians to play the chain’s iconic founder, Colonel Sanders, and developing attention-getting products.

Most recently, the company cracked the chicken sandwich code, something it had long tried to do but failed. Same-store sales have been up for eight straight quarters and 11 of the past 13.

Amid his tenure there, he was brought aboard to serve as Pizza Hut’s interim president. Under his watch, the brand improved marketing, closed dine-in locations and helped turn around sales.

Sabir Sami, KFC’s CEO, cited Hochman’s “bold and creative thinking” and his “unwavering focus on keeping the iconic KFC brand culturally relevant for consumers.”

"I am honored to be appointed Brinker's President and CEO and appreciate the support of Wyman and the Board," Hochman said in a statement. "I've been very impressed with our operations and technology and see huge potential for growing our iconic Chili's and Maggiano's brands."

Dyke Shipp, KFC division president, will replace Hochman until a permanent replacement is named.

Sami noted that Shipp “is an accomplished executive with a strong track record of elevating KFC’s unique and distinctive culture.”

Roberts' retirement and Hochman's move continue a trend of executive departures at big restaurant companies in recent months. Starbucks, Wingstop, Darden, Red Lobster and Denny's have all had top executives retire or leave for other jobs.

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