- Jack in the Box announced Thursday that it has appointed Darin Harris as CEO, according to a company release. Harris will also join the chain's board of directors effective once he takes on the role, no later than June 15, 2020.
- Harris most recently worked as CEO of North America for IWG PLC, a holding group for providers of more than 1,000 flexible workspaces. He has more than two decades of leadership experience at franchised and corporate multi-unit retail and service businesses. His resume also includes serving as CEO of CiCi's Pizza for five years, SVP at Arby's Restaurant Group and VP, franchise and corporate development at Captain D's Seafood.
- The board also announced that David Goebel, current independent lead director, will serve as non-executive chairman once Harris joins Taco Bell.
Five months after former chief Lenny Comma announced he was exiting Jack in the Box, the chain has named a successor.
Comma's exit, after six years at the helm, came amid franchisee frustration and activist pressure, as well as abandoned plans to explore a sale of the company. Operators had been pushing for Comma's removal since 2018, when the National Jack in the Box Franchisee Association — which makes up about 84% of the chain's system — expressed its discontent with activist Jana Partners, which named two more seats to the restaurant's board of directors.
Though some of this tension has cooled in the months since Comma's departure, Jack in the Box still has a history of bad communication between leadership and operators. This will be a heavy mantle for Harris to inherit, especially in the middle of the growing novel coronavirus crisis. Still the move to tap a new chief from outside the company could give corporate and franchisees a fresh start.
This week, the restaurant announced that it has reduced or delayed several franchisee payments to better support operators amid store closures. It cut April marketing fees from 5% to 4% of gross restaurant sales and delayed the collection of these fees. It also delayed collecting 40% of April franchisee rental payments, which will be collected the three months beginning July. Jack in the Box is also negotiating payment terms on property where the company is the primary lessee, and is distributing protective masks and thermometers to its company-owned and franchised restaurants.
This level of franchisee support is becoming standard among big chains as coronavirus continues to pummel the restaurant industry, but it's still a positive step forward for Jack in the Box operator relations. Last year, franchisees claimed that the cause of their problems were insufficient resources and lease restructuring, as well as lackluster sales after the company sold Qdoba.
If Harris pushes the company to continue to find ways to support franchisees during this time, he and the company could emerge from the crisis on stable footing. Still, some franchisee demands have yet to be answered. Operators have been concerned by the company's lack of a CMO since Iwona Alter's exit in 2018, and its unclear whether the chain's securitization — rather than the sale it had been exploring — will prove successful.