Jack in the Box chief executive officer Lenny Comma said he will leave the company, although there’s no set date for his departure. The company announced Wednesday that Comma, who has been with Jack in the Box for 18 years, including six as chairman and CEO, informed its board of directors that he “believes now is an appropriate time for the company to move forward with identifying a successor.”
Jack in the Box retained executive search and leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart to assist in picking Comma’s replacement. The company said Comma will work with the successor “on a smooth and efficient transition of leadership,” and that it will look at internal and external candidates.
“I’m proud of what the company has been able to accomplish during my tenure as Chairman and CEO,” Comma said in a statement. “Since 2014, we’ve sold Qdoba, finished our evolution to an asset-light brand by completing our refranchising efforts, gone through a rigorous strategic alternatives process, completed a very complex $1.3 billion securitization transaction, dramatically strengthened our operations leadership bench, and recently concluded our ninth straight year of system same-store sales growth.”
Added lead director David Goebel: “The board is grateful for Lenny’s willingness to work with us to assure a seamless transition of his leadership role, and we will proceed diligently to find another world-class leader for the Jack in the Box organization.”
From May 2012 to October 2014, Comma served as president of Jack in the Box. He was COO from November 2010 to January 2014.
Comma joined Jack in the Box in 2001 as director of convenience store and fuel operations for the company’s proprietary chain Quick Stuff, which included more than 60 locations at the time it was sold in 2009.
Comma was promoted to division VP of Quick Stuff Operations in 2004 and regional VP of Quick Stuff as well as the company’s Southern California region two years later, which included more than 150 Jack in the Box stores.
Comma was named VP of operations, division II, overseeing nearly 1,200 company and franchised stores, in 2007. He took on the CEO and chairman role January 2014.
Before Jack in the Box, Comma worked for Exxon Mobile Corporation.
The past couple years have produced their contentious moments.
Jack in the Box’s National Franchisee Association called for Comma’s ouster in April, citing the formation of a Franchisee Advisory Council made up of non-NFA members and Jack in the Box representatives. It claimed the move was intended to stymie efforts to shake up leadership. The previous October, the NFA also railed for a CEO change, spotlighting stagnant sales versus competitors, among other issues. The NFA, founded in 1995 and comprised of 95 franchisees representing the ownership of roughly 2,000 units, issued a vote of “No Confidence,” saying “years of long-ranging discussions and unanswered concerns brought directly to Jack in the Box CEO Lenny Comma.”
Jack in the Box reported same-store sales growth of 3 percent in Q4—its strongest performance in four years. The brand’s company comps upped 3.5 percent and franchise moved 3 percent versus growth of 0.8 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, in the year-ago period. Of its 2,243 restaurants, 2,106 are franchised. It’s a 94 percent split achieved after last year’s refranchising initiative.
Jack in the Box’s full-year 2019 blended gains of 1.3 percent marked the ninth consecutive year of positive same-store sales. Q4’s 3.5 percent comp comprised of check increases of 280 basis points and a transaction lift of 70 basis points.
Total revenues for Q4 were $221.2 million and adjusted earnings were 95 cents per share, up from 77 cents last year.
Jack in the Box opened 19 locations in 2019 (all franchised) and said last quarter it expected to ramp up to 25–35 gross new unit openings this coming year, with further accelerating in the calendars to come.
Jack in the Box took a six-month strategic look at options for the company earlier in the year. This included talks with potential buyers, a process that began last December. Instead, the chain decided to implement a new capital structure in the form of a securitization to drive shareholder value and turn its focus inward to operations. Mainly, speed of service, training, and drive thru fixes.
The company said it was targeting a one-minute improvement in average service times by the end of 2021. It also scaled back remodels in favor of working on drive-thru improvement. And the company took a more bundle-focused approach to value in 2019 as well as it looked to regain some of the everyday value it lost when it raised the price ceiling of its popular 2 for 99 cents tacos.
In September, the company also announced that three of its long-tenured executives would be leaving the company: EVP, chief legal and risk officer and corporate secretary Phillip Rudolph; EVP and chief of staff and strategy Mark Blankenship; and SVP, controller and treasurer Paul Melancon.