Gene Lee has been named interim chief executive officer at Darden Restaurants.


ORLANDO, FLA. — Two months after hiring a search firm to find a new chief executive officer, Darden Restaurants, Inc. has found its man — at least temporarily. The restaurant chain said its board of directors has named Gene Lee as interim c.e.o. Mr. Lee, who previously was president and chief operating officer, succeeds Clarence Otis, who has stepped down as c.e.o., effective immediately. Mr. Otis previously had said he would step down no later than Dec. 31.

“The new board and I have appreciated the energy and attitude from within the organization,” said Jeffrey C. Smith, who has been appointed independent non-executive chairman of the board. “Gene has proven to be an outstanding leader at Darden, and we are excited to work closely with him as our interim chief executive officer. The board’s search committee will conduct a full search for the next c.e.o. of Darden, which will include both internal and external candidates.”

Mr. Lee said he was “thrilled” with the opportunity provided by the board to lead Darden.

“Our teams are energized and looking with optimism at the opportunities ahead,” he said. “Everyone at Darden is focused on delivering an outstanding experience to every guest, every time, and with that level of commitment, our company will succeed.”

Darden also said its independent inspector of elections has certified the results of the company’s 2014 annual meeting. Accordingly, shareholders have elected all 12 Starboard-nominated directors to Darden’s board of directors. They are: Betsy S. Atkins, Margaret Shan Atkins, Jean M. Birch, Bradley D. Blum, Peter A. Feld, James P. Fogarty, Cynthia T. Jamison, William H. Lenehan, Lionel L. Nowell, III, Jeffrey C. Smith, Charles M. Sonsteby and Alan N. Stillman.

Darden also announced the appointment of the board’s committee chairs, effective immediately:

• Cynthia T. Jamison: Audit Committee

• Jeffrey C. Smith: C.e.o. Search Committee

• James P. Fogarty: Compensation Committee

• William H. Lenehan: Finance and Real Estate Committee

• Betsy S. Atkins: Nominating and Governance Committee.