Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's a jungle out there

Here on the Peltz-engeti Plains, the beasts of the restaurant wilds are hitting the watering holes a bit more enthusiastically. After watching Nelson Triarcus carnivorous ruthlessly stalk its prey, the wounded Wendy red-hairus, the herd winced in horror as the predator brought down one of the kingdom’s most storied specimens. But the blood-letting didn’t end there. No sooner had Kerrii Anderson’s head been mounted than another proud denizen of the restaurant jungle find himself being measured for a spot on the lodge’s trophy wall. In a move that shocked everyone, including the prey, Craig Miller found himself at the wrong end of an angry board’s scope. He was summarily dispatched as CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a post he assumed four years after Bill Hyde had been dropped because of a vertical climb in beef costs. No wonder the beasts left standing are taking a big gulp and wondering, Who’ll be next?

Rock Bottom answered that question with the simultaneous resignations yesterday of three top executives, including CEO Ned Lidvall. The smart money says he won’t be the last chain chief to feel as if he’s in a National Geographic special, cast as the wildebeest in a study of investors’ meat-eating habits.

Worst of all, the situation isn’t purely Darwinistic. Everyone is mired in an economic swamp that has customers spending less, suppliers charging more, employees bailing for other trades, and landlords forgetting there’s a real estate glut. Even if you’re better than the competitions’ CEOs, you can still look like a prime cut of meat to an unforgiving investment pack. Outside of McDonald’s and Chipotle, the only executives who are looking fit these days are the ones who’ve dropped out of the restaurant business to work as head hunters.

Of course, if could be worse. They could be among those unfortunates who come to work one day and find a registered letter on their desks from William Ackman, Sardar Biglari or some company whose name starts with T-R-I, the mark of Nelson Peltz and the now industry equivalent of “666.” It’s one thing to pack up all your office belongings in a cardboard box and head down to HR for an exit interview. It’s another to be hounded like a wobbly gazelle trying to limp its way across the African veldt.

And it’s just a matter of time until that happens. In the announcement of its deal to takeover Wendy’s International, Arby’s parent Triarc Cos. specified that the fast-food empire formed by the chains’ merger would grow in part through acquisitions.

Not that you should feel too bad for Anderson, who’s about to be replaced as Wendy’s CEO by her counterpart at Arby’s and Triarc, Roland Smith. News reports say she’ll be paid $20 million in severance, which includes about $5 million to defray her income taxes.

No comments:

Post a Comment