- Wingstop announced the resignation of chairman and CEO Charlie Morrison, who has been at the helm for 10 years. According to a press release, he is moving on to become the CEO of Phoenix-based drive-thru concept, Salad and Go. President and COO Michael Skipworth has been named as Morrison’s successor at Wingstop, effective March 13.
- Skipworth joined Wingstop in 2014 and was named CFO in 2017. In August 2021 he was promoted to president and COO, playing an integral part in helping the brand scale globally to more than 1,700 locations.
- Morrison led Wingstop through significant growth during his tenure, including its public market debut in 2015 and its triple-digit growth in stock value since. Wingstop started trading at $19 and is now around $120.
Given his success, Morrison’s departure shook the markets a bit on Monday, with Wingstop trading down nearly $7 at close Monday compared to its peak around 10 a.m. But Morrison’s accomplishments with the Dallas-based brand extend far beyond the markets.
When he took over, the company had about 530 units. The number has since more than tripled, expanding into new global markets like France, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Further, the company has become a digital juggernaut, and was on that path well before the pandemic necessitated technology adoption. In 2019, for example, Wingstop launched an online ordering function through Twitch.
The pandemic accelerated that competency and the chain exceeded $1 billion in annual systemwide digital sales growth during 2020, representing 60% of the chain’s sales. Morrison, who leveraged his experience in the pizza category prior to his arrival at Wingstop, called the company a “tech stock” versus a restaurant stock.
In fact, under Morrison’s leadership, Wingstop has been targeting 100% digital transactions and has made key moves toward this goal, including the addition of a chief digital and technology officer, a realignment of its leadership structure to bring IT and marketing functions closer, the debut of a digital-focused prototype and the launch of virtual brand called Thighstop.
Thighstop was facilitated in partnership with DoorDash, which has served as Wingstop’s exclusive delivery partner since 2018. Morrison told Forbes the partnership created operational efficiencies that benefit Wingstop’s franchisees.
During its most recent quarter, Wingstop reported record average unit volumes of $1.6 million.
That’s not to say the chain has been without its challenges, however, particularly with wing price inflation, which spurred the Thighstop launch. Skipworth’s experience in finance should help with inflation navigation. There is also the proliferation of digital chicken brand wings entering the space, including from deep-pocketed brands like Bloomin', Brinker and Applebee's. But Wingstop’s footprint and category domination should continue to insulate the brand from significant competitive pressures.
While the news took many by surprise, the transition is likely to be smooth, with Skipworth noting how closely the two have worked together over the last eight years. "... We have a great deal of momentum as we look to the future, Skipworth said in a statement. "I feel confident we have the right talent and team with a clear strategy to continue delivering our unparalleled and industry-leading results.”