Industry News | March 21, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Former KFC President Becomes New CEO at Carl's Jr., Hardee's

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's have a new CEO. CKE Restaurants
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Tuesday was a day of C-level overhaul in the fast food industry.

Earlier, it was announced that KFC’s U.S. president for the past three years, Jason Marker, was stepping down to pursue other opportunities. It didn’t take long for that open window to close.

At 4 p.m., CKE Restaurants, parent company of Carl’s Jr., and Hardee’s, revealed Marker would soon become its next chief executive officer, effective in April.

“Jason has tremendous experience in franchising, in the [quick-service restaurant] sector, and in positioning and growing iconic brands,” says Andy Puzder, 66, who served as CKE’s CEO since 2000, in a statement. “I expressed my desire to have CKE plan for succession approximately a year ago, and I could not be more pleased to have Jason Marker selected to be the company’s next leader. He is an outstanding executive who will continue to build the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. brands both internationally and domestically.”

Meanwhile, KFC wasted no time appointing Marker’s successor in the form of Kevin Hochman. The brand’s new president and chief concept officer assumes the role immediately. The 43-year-old joined KFC as chief marketing officer more than three years ago, and has been part of the company’s 10 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth.

As for CKE, the move marks the beginning of a transitional period following Puzder’s odyssey into politics.

Initially named President Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Puzder withdraw his name from consideration before the confirmation hearing. Puzder became executive vice president and general counsel of CKE in 1997 after Puzder met Carl’s Jr. founder Carl Karcher and became his personal attorney to help him overcome financial difficulties. CKE now owns or franchises more than 3,250 restaurants in the U.S. and 26 other countries, generates $1.3 billion in annual revenue, and, with franchisees, employs more than 70,000 people stateside.

In early February, The Associated Press reported that Puzder was taking steps to eliminate any conflicts of interest that might threaten his nomination. The article said that Puzder was working to rid himself of assets from the fast food company in hopes of being confirmed.

But he pulled out of the process amid growing doubts he didn’t have enough support to become a member of Trump’s cabinet.

Marker arrives at CKE with undeniable chops as a major executive. In his time with KFC U.S., he was responsible for the overall strategy and performance of a business with more than $4.2 billion in system sales, 4,200 restaurants, and 450 franchisees. He was also behind a new advertising campaign in 2015. Before KFC, Marker served KFC and Yum! Brands International in various marketing leadership roles: General Manager, KFC U.S. (2014—2015), Chief Marketing Officer, KFC U.S. (2011- 2013), VP Global Marketing, KFC Global (2010—2011) and Chief Marketing Officer, KFC & Pizza Hut South Pacific (2007—2010).

Marker also worked in various brand management leadership roles at Unilever.

“I am honored to have been selected as CKE’s next CEO. It is a privilege to lead an organization that has pioneered the quick service restaurant space for more than 75 years. I would like to thank Andy and his team for the amazing progress they’ve made with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s over the past 16 years,” he says in a release. “As CEO, I will do my best to serve our customers, employees and franchisees, continuing the company’s strong history of innovation, quality, and value.”

Hochman will lead KFC’s brand strategy and performance in the U.S. He previously worked at Procter & gamble. “Kevin Hochman is an exceptional brand builder and marketing innovation leader with an extremely strong track record of success,” says Greg Creed, chief executive officer, Yum! Brands, in a statement. “He has led KFC’s incredible brand re-launch and brought back the greatest chicken salesman in the world, Colonel Sanders, to pop culture. He’s the perfect person to continue to grow and elevate KFC U.S. into a distinctive, relevant brand that people trust and champion. Kevin’s promotion is evidence that the power of Yum! Brands is our unrivaled culture and talent which gives us the advantage of drawing from a strong bench of executives when bigger leadership opportunities like this one arise.”