Darden Restaurants Announces Upcoming CEO Transition; Eugene I. Lee, Jr., Ricardo Cardenas, and Charles M. Sonsteby Detail
ORLANDO, FL - Darden Restaurants, the foodservice force behind well-known brands like Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, and many more, pulled back the curtain on some big news for the company. It recently revealed that current Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Eugene (Gene) I. Lee, Jr., has announced his retirement effective May 29, 2022, and Ricardo (Rick) Cardenas will be stepping up as the new CEO.
“It is an honor to be appointed Darden’s next Chief Executive Officer, and I am grateful to Gene and the Board for their confidence in me,” Cardenas commented. “It is humbling to lead 170,000 outstanding team members who nourish and delight everyone we serve. I was incredibly fortunate to work with each of Darden’s previous CEOs, so I have a strong appreciation for the legacy of leadership I am inheriting. By upholding our commitment to operational excellence and maximizing the power of the Darden platform, we will continue to execute our strategy to drive growth and shareholder value.”
The current President and Chief Operating Officer will also become a member of the Board effective May 30, 2022, when he assumes his new CEO role. According to the release, Cardenas was elected unanimously by the Board.
Cardenas began his career with Darden as an hourly team member in 1984 before joining the restaurant support center team in 1992. He served as Darden’s Chief Financial Officer since March 2016, and prior to that, he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer before being named President and Chief Operating Officer in January 2021.
“The Board and I are delighted that Rick will serve as Darden’s next CEO,” Lee said. “He has deep knowledge of our company and the industry and has been a valued strategic thought partner to me and the senior management team. I am confident that he has the integrity, vision, and leadership skills necessary to ensure Darden and its brands continue to successfully grow and be of service to our team members, our guests, and our shareholders.”
Lee will continue to serve on Darden’s Board of Directors as Executive Chairman until the 2022 Annual Meeting of Shareholders. At that time, Lee is expected to stand for re-election to the Board and continue to serve as Chairman in a non-executive capacity.
“It has been a privilege to serve as Darden’s CEO for the past seven years and to work with the most dedicated and talented team members and management team in the industry,” said Lee. “As Chairman, I look forward to collaborating with Rick and our Board to help Darden achieve even higher levels of success.”
Charles (Chuck) M. Sonsteby, Darden’s Lead Independent Director, also commented on the executive transition, noting his appreciation to Lee and his dedicated service.
“On behalf of the entire Darden board, I want to thank Gene for his strong leadership as CEO. During Gene’s tenure, Darden’s revenues increased by more than $2 billion and market capitalization increased approximately three-fold to nearly $20 billion. At the same time, total shareholder returns were 1.5x the S&P 500 Index,” Sonsteby stated. “Gene has successfully led the company through significant change and unpredictability—most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic—with an unwavering focus on our guests and our team members. We look forward to continuing to work with Gene as Chairman of the Board.”
We here at ANUK wish the best of luck to Eugene I. Lee, Jr. and Ricardo Cardenas as they take this exciting next step.