With the pandemic still going strong, the Jack in the Box Board of Directors chose a leader who it believes is more than capable of leading the brand through the COVID crisis.
In April, the West Coast chain announced that Darin Harris will take over as CEO, replacing the retiring Lenny Comma.
Some of his notable stops in the restaurant industry include CEO of CiCi’s Pizza, SVP of Arby’s, and vice president of franchise and corporate development at Captain D’s Seafood. He holds a Masters of Business Administration from Xavier University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Creighton University.
In the Q&A below, Harris provides detail on his background and how he plans to push Jack in the Box to greater heights.
How’d you make it into the restaurant industry?
It’s a funny story. I played baseball in college then played professionally. When I was finished with my baseball career, I started working for the Montreal Expos, and my introduction to food was co-branding and trying to get restaurants into baseball stadiums. It led to an opportunity with Pizza Hut and the launch of Pizza Hut Express units into non-traditional outlets. I was trying to figure out how to bring some excitement to the team and persistently called the Pizza Hut guys to get them to talk to me, which eventually led into my intro to the restaurant industry.
How’s the transition to Jack in the Box been, given the pandemic and state of the industry?
While the initial outbreak of COVID-19 occurred prior to my tenure, I experienced the effects firsthand throughout my own transition and imagined ways that we would return from this stronger than ever. As you can imagine, I’ve been onboarding with all stakeholders, and mostly virtually. Luckily, my predecessor and the executive team did a great job in implementing both financial and operational business measures at the corporate level and for our franchisees to ensure that we could all weather this pandemic. At the restaurant level, we have continued to prioritize the health and safety of our employees and guests as we have remained open through the drive-thru, delivery, and carryout.
Could you describe the past work experience that will enable you to successfully lead Jack in the Box and its partners through the pandemic?
I have over 25 years of experience leading franchised and multi-unit retail operations, most recently having served as CEO of IWG Regus, North America. Prior to that, I was chief executive officer of CiCi’s Enterprises, COO of Primrose Schools Franchising Company in addition to holding franchise leadership roles as senior vice president at Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc., and vice president of franchise and corporate development at Captain D’s Seafood, Inc. I’m eager to pair my extensive knowledge of working with partners and stakeholders in tandem with the amazing leadership team and employees at Jack in the Box to further our business into uncharted territory during the remainder of this pandemic. I think the company has really reached an inflection point, which my background sets up nicely for in terms of where the brand is today and where they’re ready to go. Lenny [Comma] and the team have done a great job in getting us to a solid foundation of same sales growth, implementing initiatives related to operations and marketing and I am excited to take it from here.
What are the immediate goals you plan to pursue as the new CEO?
Over the next few months, I am committed to diligently listening to the needs of the franchisee community and strengthening these relationships. There will be a heavy focus on continuing same sales growth and new unit development while assessing the business moving forward to determine what success looks like. In addition, I’m excited to build rapport with our amazing leadership team and employees who have been integral in our growth thus far and upholding our great brand reputation.
What are the main insights you’ve learned from team members, partners, and franchisees about the brand and its potential?
First, I’ve always watched Jack in the Box from afar and think the brand is iconic and fun, with a great menu and variety. I have always admired Jack in the Box’s culture, nimbleness, and uniqueness as a challenger brand that has left a mark in 22 states across the country. It’s what drew me to work here and it’s evident that this challenger spirit has been the blueprint of our unrivaled menu and what has given us our competitive edge for the last 70 years. I’m excited to take this brand to new heights and work within this powerful ecosystem of employees, stakeholders and franchisees.
Second, I think the company has really reached an inflection point, which my background sets up nicely for in terms of where the brand is today and where they’re ready to go. The team has done a great job in getting us to a solid foundation of same-store sales growth, implementing initiatives related to operations and marketing, and I am excited to take it from here—especially as it pertains to getting Jack in the Box back to growing through new unit development.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests nationwide, in what ways will Jack in the Box commit to combating racial discrimination and injustice moving forward?
As we shared a few weeks back, we are a brand that stands for inclusivity. As an organization we do not tolerate racism or violence against the Black community or any other marginalized groups. We know this goes beyond just a social post, and we have committed to listening and doing our part to both seek and invest in educational resources to make our company more vigilant about these important issues. Most recently we launched our internal Diversity and Inclusion portal system that provides all Jack in the Box franchisees, corporate and restaurant employees with free resources and tools. We have committed to updating this regularly with information, classes and personal stories that will help each person be a part of the change.
Could you describe the health of Jack in the Box and its franchisees and how the brand is positioned for the post-pandemic landscape?
As we are still in the midst of a pandemic, our priority is the safety and wellbeing of the community and employees. Looking ahead, our leadership and franchisee teams are swiftly adapting to this changing landscape and we are working in tandem to establish best next steps as we navigate the uncertain future of this virus. The Jack franchisees are great partners and important to this business, I am eager to listen to them to help work together to continue achieving success as an organization.
What are key ways in which Jack in the Box can establish trust with the consumers throughout the rest of the COVID crisis?
Our message to our guests remains the same from the start of the pandemic—their health and safety is our number one priority. We appreciate their continued loyalty during this time and we are judiciously following all local and national measures to implement utmost hygiene and sanitation within our restaurants to make sure our guests and employees are protected. Our main focus is to make our guests feel appreciated by letting them know that we are here to serve them safely and satisfy their indulgent cravings whenever they need us.