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Yum! Brands to lose a key leader

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David Novak, a longtime leader of Taco Bell parent Yum! Brands, will end his involvement with the company and retire in May.

Novak currently serves as executive chairman and a director of Yum, which also franchises KFC and Pizza Hut.  He has served in that role for about a year, after holding the title of CEO for about 15 years.

Yum said it would select a non-executive chairman from among its remaining directors to succeed Novak.

His retirement comes as Yum is preparing to split into two. The company’s extensive Chinese operations was spun off as a separate public company at the end of the year.

Novak, a former marketing executive, was a key force behind Yum’s expansion in China. The Asian division had been a golden goose for the company, generating huge comparable-store sales as KFC and Pizza Hut were embraced by the communist giant’s emerging middle class. Yum was one of the first U.S. restaurant brands to plunge into the market. 

“As we target the separation of our China business by the end of 2016 and transition to two powerful, independent companies, it is a perfect time for me to complete my retirement,” Novak said in a statement.

Novak will retire at the conclusion of Yum’s annual shareholder meeting, where CEO Greg Creed—a protégé of Novak—will preside.

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