LOUISVILLE, KY. — Robert M. Lynch has been named president and chief executive officer of Papa John’s International, Inc. He succeeds Steve M. Ritchie, who had led the company since January 2017.
Mr. Lynch has more than 20 years of experience in the quick-service restaurant and consumer packaged goods industries, most recently as president of Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. since August 2017. He earlier spent four years as brand president and chief marketing officer at Arby’s, where he was responsible for creating the “We Have the Meats” campaign. Before joining Arby’s he was vice-president of marketing at Taco Bell. Earlier in his career he was an associate marketing director at Kraft Heinz Co. for five years and a brand manager at Procter and Gamble for seven years.
“I am humbled and excited by the opportunity to work with this outstanding team to help make Papa John’s the best pizza company in the world,” Mr. Lynch said. “Papa John’s has the most loved pizza in the industry, incredibly dedicated team members and franchisees that have proven their resilience and commitment, and a long history of innovation that puts the company at the front of where the food service industry is going. I look forward to building on these strengths, working with Papa John’s team members, franchisees and business partners. I absolutely believe that Papa John’s best days are ahead.”
Mr. Lynch received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Rochester — William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.
“I am thrilled to welcome Rob to Papa John’s at this pivotal moment in the company’s history,” said Jeffrey C. Smith, chairman of the board of directors at Papa John’s. “His proven record transforming organizations and realizing the growth potential of differentiated brands is ideally suited for Papa John’s as the company sets forth on its next chapter. I would also like to thank Steve Ritchie for his steady leadership as c.e.o. over the past year and a half. Papa John’s is stronger today because of Steve’s good work stabilizing the company, and our business continues to perform on plan. We are all grateful for his dedication and contribution to the company for more than 20 years and wish him success in the future.”
Mr. Ritchie led Papa John’s during a tumultuous time, as the pizza chain was involved in a spat with its founder John H. Schnatter for much of the past two years. The dispute began in December 2017, when Mr. Schnatter stepped down as c.e.o. following comments he made against the National Football League leadership that garnered criticism.
Then, in July 2018, Papa John’s formed a special committee of the board of directors that terminated Mr. Schnatter’s founder agreement as the face of the brand after news surfaced that he used a racial slur during a May conference call.
But the argument didn’t end there. In an Aug. 27, 2018, letter posted to his personal web site, Mr. Schnatter took aim at the company’s performance, saying that the source of its poor performance was due to “rot at the top.” In the letter, Mr. Schnatter voiced some of his sharpest criticism toward Mr. Ritchie.
More recently, the company in June announced an investment of $80 million in marketing and brand initiatives aimed at getting the brand back on track. Under the agreement, Papa John’s will make significant contributions to the company’s National Marketing Fund to amplify the brand’s message with the help of its new brand ambassador, Shaquille O’Neal. Mr. O’Neal, a former player in the National Basketball Association, joined the Papa John’s board of directors as brand ambassador in March. He also will be an investor in nine Papa John’s restaurants in the Atlanta area.
Papa John’s also will lower royalties and provide royalty-based service incentives and targeted relief to assist its domestic franchisees.