- Sabir Sami, who currently serves as KFC's chief operating officer and managing director of KFC Asia, has been promoted to KFC CEO effective Jan. 1, according to a press release.
- Sami, a 12-year veteran of the chicken chain, will succeed Tony Lowings, who will step down at the end of the year in advance of his retirement in 2022. Lowings worked at parent company Yum Brands and KFC for over 27 years. Dyke Shipp, the company's chief development officer and chief people officer, will also be promoted in January to president.
- The CEO transition comes as KFC focuses on growing digital sales, which reached roughly $10 billion in 2020. This year, the chain launched an e-commerce site and app to replace its third-party solution, and its digital sales are on pace to surpass 2020's digital sales performance, Yum Brands CEO David Gibbs said during the company's Q2 2021 earnings call.
KFC's digital investments comes as Yum Brands aggressively targets off-premise sales fulfilled through digital channels.
"Even as economies continue to reopen, the importance of the off-premise occasion remains a top priority," Gibbs said on the Q2 2021 earnings call.
Yum captured more than $5 billion in digital sales during that period, a 35% jump over the year-ago period. For the first time on a trailing 12-month basis, the company also racked up more than $20 billion in digital sales, Gibbs said.
"We believe these sales are highly incremental and result from our investments in our digital and technology ecosystem, which enable our teams to deliver an even more RED customer experience," Gibbs said.
Two of those digital investments focused on marketing. In March, Yum bought the artificial intelligence arm of performance marketing firm Kvantum to strengthen its data-driven marketing strategy. That same month, the company also acquired TicTuk Technologies, a marketing and omnichannel solutions firm that specializes in conversational commerce. Prior to the deal, Yum already used TicTuk in 900 KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut locations outside of the U.S., but the company will now expand the product globally.
These new digital assets poise KFC, Yum's largest restaurant brand, for continued digital growth. The pandemic accelerated KFC's digital mix "by years," KFC Chief Development Officer Brian Cahoe told Forbes last month. He also said KFC restaurants that don't have drive-thrus could potentially yield 50% in digital sales.
In a statement about Sami's promotion, Gibbs said, "As a highly-respected strategic brand builder, operations expert and heart-led leader, Sabir is a natural choice to continue successfully executing KFC's long-term global growth strategies in close partnership with our franchisees and further elevate KFC as a relevant, easy and distinctive (R.E.D.) brand."
Sami's ascension to KFC CEO comes amid a slew of C-suite executive changes in the restaurant space.
Last week, Chick-fil-A announced Andrew Cathy will succeed his father Dan Cathy as chief of the chicken chain on Nov. 1. On Tuesday, Dave & Buster's announced CEO Brian Jenkins will retire from the post and his seat on the board of directors on Sept. 30. Kevin Sheehan, chair of Dave & Buster's board, will serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is hired, and Jenkins will serve as an advisor to the CEO until Nov. 30 to ease the transition.
All of these CEO departures are part of the respective executives' retirement plans, which makes it less likely the exits are due to volatility within the companies or the restaurant market overall. Lowings isn't KFC's only C-suite member to depart this year, however — U.S. CMO Andrea Zahumensky left the chain in April.