KFC's Marker Taking Reins At Carl's Jr., Hardee's As Puzder Dismounts

Andy Puzder, who withdrew from consideration to be Labor Secretary in February in the face of stiff and mounting opposition from an assortment of groups, yesterday resigned as CEO of CKE Restaurant Holdings, a position he has held since 2000. Jason Marker, who most recently has been president of Kentucky Fried Chicken, will succeed him next month at the helm of the company that franchises, licenses and operates the Hardee's, Carl's Jr., La Salsa and Green Burrito restaurant chains.

“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,” Puzder, 66, says in a quote that’s highlighted in the Business Wire release about the developments. CKE, which was purchased by Roarck Capital Group from Apollo Global Management in 2013, last year moved its corporate headquarters from Carpinteria, Calif., to Franklin, Tenn. 



Marker, who is 46 and a native of New Zealand, has been “credited with overseeing a turnaround of the U.S. KFC business,” according to Bloomberg’s Nick Turner, Leslie Patton and Craig Giammona, which has more than $4.2 billion in sales and 4,200 restaurants. He joined Yum! Brands International in Australia and has served the company in various marketing leadership roles. 

Marker was named chief marketing officer for KFC & Pizza Hut South Pacific in 2007 “and was a key force in developing product and marketing ideas that were first successful in Australia and then exported across KFC's global system. He was then relocated to Yum! Restaurants International as the vice president of global branding and marketing,” in 2010, according to a Bloomberg bio. Before Yum!, Marker worked in various brand management leadership roles at Unilever.

“Analysts say that Puzder’s move was unsurprising, especially after controversial details of his personal life were widely publicized during his confirmation process. Those included his hiring of a housekeeper who was in the U.S. illegally and decades-old allegations of spousal abuse,” write Shan Li and Jim Puzzanghera for the Los Angeles Times

“CKE is ‘concerned about their perception,’ said Jeff McNeal, president of restaurant and hospitality consulting firm Fessel International. ‘I don’t think this is anything about the financial performance of the company. It was his failed nomination.’”

Donald Trump tapped Puzder, an early supporter in his bid for the presidency, to be Labor Secretary last December but “the choice quickly [drew] fire from both sides of the Senate aisle,” reports Ezequiel Minaya for the Wall Street Journal

“A pair of personal controversies were among the issues that dogged Mr. Puzder. A decades-old spousal abuse allegation, which his ex-wife has recanted, resurfaced with a video of her appearing in disguise on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ in 1990. Mr. Puzder also disclosed that he failed to pay taxes for an undocumented housekeeper.”

Puzder claimed he was a victim of politics.

“In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the CEO of CKE restaurants accused Democrats of engaging in a concerted effort to thwart his prospects of running the Labor Department and to ultimately keep Trump from succeeding in office,” reports Maya Rhodan for Time.

“‘The left is trying to sink as many of the President’s nominees as possible,’ he said. ‘So in that sense, it really wouldn’t have mattered what I believed or who I was or what the process was. They were going to campaign against me as a means of hurting the President.’”

Puzder also drew fire for Carl’s Jr.’s ads that featured “a scantily clad woman digging into a burger,” CNN Money’s Julia Horowitz tells us but he vehemently defended them.

“To Puzder, the commercials are made in the USA,” Horowitz writes about ads that that critics charge are “sexist, objectifying and offensive.” Take the 1,000-plus-calories Thickburger ad from 2015, for example.

“‘The point of the ad is to emphasize all things American,” Puzder said. That's why it shows ‘a beautiful, young, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model in an American flag bikini, in a hot tub, on a pickup truck that's painted with the American flag, driven by a rodeo bull rider on an aircraft carrier, in front of the Statue of Liberty while fireworks are going off.’”

Puzder tells the AP’s Candice Choi that he has “signed a contract to write a book about economic issues, and that he will continue writing opinion pieces, doing TV interviews and speaking at colleges. He said he hasn't decided whether he will continue to be involved in the fast-food industry.”

If he does, look for bots to replace workers who have the temerity to ask for living wages. Puzder’s “comments on automation in the restaurant industry also became a point of contention” during the congressional vetting process, Choi remind us.

“They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case,” Puzder said about replacing employees with automation in an interview with Business Insider’s Kate Taylor a year ago.

Nor do they judge you based on what you’ve said or done in the past.

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