- Papa John’s founder and former CEO/chairman John Schnatter has hired financial advisers to consider potential alternatives for increasing shareholder value, according to an SEC filling late Friday The filing states that Schnatter does not have plans or proposals for any specific actions at this time.
- The filing said Schnatter may continue discussions with the company or a third-party to decide if there is a basis to enter a transaction, but the filing doesn't specify what type of transaction.
- Schnatter still owns about a third of the company, according to the filing.
Rumors about a potential Papa John's sale have been swirling since September, though the biggest backer, Trian Fund Management, reportedly pulled itself out of discussions last month. Schnatter may have been waiting things out to see how Trian would play its hand, but now that the deal is off the table, he is reigniting the conversation about next steps for the company he founded nearly 35 years ago. Those steps could very well include him buying his own company, or he could simply be trying to maximize his significant investment.
Schnatter was ousted as chairman in July after using a racist slur on a conference call. Before this, he stepped down as CEO about a year ago after criticizing protests in the NFL. According to Stifel analyst Chris O’Cull, Schnatter’s obstinate behavior has been a downside for those pursuing an investment.
At this point, about the only thing that's clear is some type of remedy is needed. Sales have been dismal since the Schnatter fallout, including during the most recent quarter. This is despite the efforts (and costs) put toward a major marketing makeover and franchisee support. This week, the company also rolled out an updated rewards program in which loyalty members will now earn one point for every $1 spent, versus one point for every $5 spent. However, while loyalty is an area where rival Domino's has had tremendous success, the timing just doesn't seem ideal to ask franchisees to further discount their food.
Speculation about the company’s fate has been simmering for months — from Schnatter reaching out to private equity firms in September to Trian’s takeover bid to other private equity suitors. Schnatter hasn't sugar-coated his desire to regain control of his company, even going so far to state that the company is worse without him.
We may know the company's fate sooner than later, but taking the company private — and taking its continued drama out of the spotlight — could be a welcome change.