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Outback parent bows to an activist investor

Outback Steakhouse parent Bloomin’ Brands has added chain veteran Wendy Beck to its board as part of a deal with activist investor Jana Partners, a proponent of spinning off the company’s secondary restaurant brands.

The agreement commits Jana, which owns 8.7% of Bloomin’, to a standstill on agitating for a change in the board. “We are encouraged by the steps the company is taking, including appointing Wendy, and by the board's ongoing commitment to create shareholder value,” Jana Managing Partner Barry Rosenstein said in a statement. “We look forward to maintaining a constructive dialogue with the company."

Beck is currently EVP and CFO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. Previously, she held the same positions at Domino’s Pizza for roughly two years, and earlier held high-level executive positions at Whataburger and Checkers Drive-In.

“Her distinguished career in hospitality and focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences will be a valuable addition,” said Bloomin’ Brands CEO Liz Smith. “We look forward to her contribution as well as continuing our positive dialogue with Jana Partners."

Beck’s addition expands Bloomin’s board to eight members.

In a securities filing last year, Jana suggested that it might press the company to pare its extensive casual-dining holdings to just Outback, its biggest business by far. Bloomin’ also operates Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s.

Jana has also been an investor in Jack in the Box, which was encouraged to reduce its holdings to its namesake brand. The company's other restaurant operation, the Qdoba burrito chain, was sold by Jack in mid-December to Apollo Global Management for $305 million.

A call for divesting all but Outback was aired last week by another activist investor, Barington Capital Group. “We believe that the company’s attempt to operate these divergent brands under one corporate entity has negatively impacted strategic focus and operating execution at Outback as well as the company’s other brands,” Barington founder James Mitarotonda said in a letter.

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