Wyman Roberts is retiring from Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s and Maggiano’s, after nearly 10 years as CEO and chairman.
He will be replaced by Kevin Hochman, KFC’s president of US affairs, Brinker said Monday.
Roberts, 63, has worked at Brinker for more than 17 years, serving as president of its two brands as well as chief marketing officer before rising to the top job. As CEO, he oversaw a period of major growth at Chili’s, with total sales up 23.4% over the past decade, according to Technomic. Much of this growth comes from the brand’s aggressive overseas expansion.
Most recently, Roberts helped guide the company through the pandemic, which included the launch of innovative virtual chicken wing brand It’s Just Wings. Roberts’ efforts earned him a nomination for Restaurant Business’s Restaurant Chef of the Year award.
“It has been a privilege to lead and be part of this great company,” he said in a statement.
Roberts’ last day will be June 5, and he will take on an advisory role for 12 months to help ease the transition, Brinker said.
“Wyman is a leader with that particular ability to make big, strategic decisions in a way that makes individual customers feel special at our restaurant tables around the world,” Brinker President Joe DePinto said in a statement. a statement. DePinto added that his investments in people, operations and technology have “prepared our business for continued success in the future.”
On June 6, Brinker will put that future in the hands of Hochman, the head of Yum Brands who has been widely credited with helping restructure KFC’s U.S. operations since taking office in March 2017. Brinker cast him in the role after what he said was extensive research.
“Kevin is a talented leader and innovative thinker with strategic vision, passion and a successful track record of building brands,” DePinto said.
Hochman came to KFC US in 2014, after more than 19 years at consumer products company Procter & Gamble. He was first the channel’s American marketing director. He was named brand president in 2017. Under Hochman, KFC used innovative marketing to draw attention to the brand, using a series of actors and comedians to play the chain’s iconic founder Col. Sanders, and developing products that grab attention.
More recently, the company cracked the code for the chicken sandwich, something it had long tried to do, but failed. Same-store sales have increased for eight consecutive quarters and 11 of the past 13.
During his tenure there, he was brought on board to serve as the interim president of Pizza Hut. Under his leadership, the brand improved marketing, closed restaurants and helped turn around sales.
Sabir Sami, CEO of KFC, cited Hochman’s “bold and creative thinking” and his “unwavering determination to keep the iconic KFC brand culturally relevant for consumers.”
“I am honored to be named President and CEO of Brinker and appreciate the support of Wyman and the Board of Directors,” Hochman said in a statement. “I have been very impressed with our operations and technology and see tremendous growth potential for our iconic Chili’s and Maggiano’s brands.”
KFC Division President Dyke Shipp will replace Hochman until a permanent replacement is named.
Sami noted that Shipp “is an accomplished executive with a solid track record in elevating KFC’s unique and distinctive culture.”
Roberts’ retirement and Hochman’s move continue the trend of executive departures from major restaurant companies in recent months. Starbucks, Wingstop, Darden, Red Lobster and Denny’s have all seen their top executives retire or leave for other jobs.
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