Yum! Brands announced Wednesday that KFC executive Sabir Sami will take over as CEO of the chicken brand to begin 2022.
Sami, who serves as KFC's COO and managing director of KFC Asia, will succeed Tony Lowings, who is retiring early next year. Lowings has been with the company for nearly three decades, and has led KFC as CEO since 2019. Throughout his career, he has worked as president and COO, managing director of KFC Asia-Pacific, and managing director of KFC SOPAC (Australia and New Zealand), among other roles.
Sami will start January 1 and assume global responsibility for driving brand strategy and performance of KFC.
“I’m incredibly privileged and excited to continue working with our talented and dedicated KFC leaders and amazing franchise partners around the world to keep strengthening and accelerating the development of our powerful, iconic brand,” Sami said in a statement. “KFC is uniquely positioned around the world as a well-loved, well-trusted brand with millions of fans—the future is certainly bright.”
In his current role, Sami oversees operational strategy in all KFC markets and manages KFC Asia, a region comprising 17 markets (except China) and more than 15 percent of all stores. Before accepting these positions, he was managing director for the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey markets, and also general manager for KFC Canada and Turkey. Before joining Yum!, he worked in various executive roles at Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Reckitt Benckiser.
“Sabir is an exceptional leader with deep expertise and knowledge of our business and has a strong, proven track record of growing KFC’s physical and brand presence in markets around the world,” Yum! CEO David Gibbs said in a statement. “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 will take the reigns of a KFC business that experienced a 19 percent jump in U.S. same-store sales in Q2 on a two-year basis. Digital sales—which mix more than 40 percent—soared to more than $10 billion in 2020, a 72 percent increase year-over-year. KFC is on pace to break that mark in 2021 as digital captured $3 billion in sales during the first quarter. Elevating that growth is a proprietary e-commerce platform and app that rolled out in the U.S. earlier this year.
Unit development has also returned to a level KFC hasn't seen in years. Through the first two quarters of 2021, the chain's U.S. market opened a net of three stores, which is the best growth pace in 17 years. The domestic division has its largest pipeline in more than a decade and is scheduled to not only grow in its typical suburban areas with drive-thru, but also in urban neighborhoods with digitally driven units. After reaching 25,000 units worldwide earlier in 2021, the company said during its Global Investor Day in May that it wants to reach 75,000 locations one day.
Sami's promotion follows the hiring of Kimberly-Clark veteran Aaron Powell as Pizza Hut's new CEO. Yum! made the move after previous Pizza Hut leader Artie Starr became Topgolf's CEO in April.