Wendy’s announced Thursday that Pepsi executive Kirk Tanner will become its new CEO in February.
Tanner, who most recently served as Pepsi’s CEO of North American beverages, will succeed Todd Penegor, who is leaving the company and board of directors after working in senior leadership roles for nearly 10 years. That includes almost eight years as president and CEO.
The change is effective February 5. Tanner will make a base salary of $1 million.
“We are thrilled to welcome an executive of Kirk’s caliber to the Wendy’s team,” Wendy’s chairman Nelson Peltz said in a statement. “Kirk is a proven operational leader whose customer-centric mindset and broad experience positioning and growing some of the most well-known global brands make him the ideal candidate to lead Wendy’s into its next phase of growth and expansion.”
Tanner comes to Wendy’s with 30-plus years of experience in beverages, snacks, and foodservice. While at Pepsi, he oversaw a $26-plus billion segment that accounted for 30 percent of the company’s overall business. Tanner was a major force behind operational performance and revenue growth, the launch of new products, and entrance into new markets. In addition to his job as CEO of North American beverages, he previously led Pepsi’s Global Foodservice division where he built the company’s presence in foodservice through strategic partnerships, new product lines, and significant deals with sports leagues and restaurants.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this iconic brand at such a pivotal time in the industry,” Tanner said in a statement. “I am energized by the future potential and expansion opportunities for the business. I look forward to working with the talented Wendy’s team and franchisees to drive future growth and success.”
During Penegor’s tenure as CEO, he led the fast-food giant through COVID and oversaw the chain’s major launch into the breakfast category in March 2020. Additionally, Wendy’s has recently been part of several innovations, including the roll out of a more efficient Global Next Gen prototype, testing of automated voice ordering at the drive-thru with Google Cloud, and experimentation with an underground delivery system.
Customer engagement rose under Penegor as well. U.S. loyalty membership surpassed 35 million in Q3, and monthly active users increased almost 40 percent quarter-over-quarter to more than 5 million as the chain exited the period. The chain said in November that it was on pace for $1.8 billion in digital sales in 2023, which would be up more than 20 percent versus 2022.
“I am grateful to the Wendy’s team for their dedication and am immensely proud of all we have achieved together,” Penegor said in a statement. “I’m confident the Company is in highly capable hands with Kirk at the helm. My Wendy’s roots run deep, and while the time is right for me to move on as an executive of this great organization, I will forever be a supporter as a loyal customer.”
The move comes about a month after Reuters reported that activist investor Blackwells Capital is making a run at the Wendy’s Board of Directors. A source told the publication that the firm plans to nominate multiple directors to the burger chain’s 12-member board to implement improvements and help the company’s financial performance. Wendy’s U.S. same-store sales rose 2.2 percent in Q3 and 4.9 percent in Q2.
The brand is currently controlled by another activist investor, Trian Fund Management, which controls 16 percent of Wendy’s. Trian has three members on the board of directors CEO Nelson Peltz, president Peter May, and co-head Matthew Peltz.
In May 2022, Trian notified Wendy’s board of its intention to explore a possible transaction, either on its own or in partnership with external entities. However, in January 2023, Nelson Peltz communicated to the board his choice not to pursue this specific course of action. Instead, he proposed that, given Wendy’s robust sales performance and financial strength, the optimal strategy to boost shareholder value would be to repurchase company shares and augment cash dividends. In response to this recommendation, Wendy’s unveiled its plans to increase its quarterly dividend to $0.25 per share and launch a $500 million share repurchase program.