NEW YORK, December 22, 2017: John Schnatter, founder of pizza chain giant Papa John’s, has announced he is leaving his position as CEO. Schnatter will stay on as board chairman. It’s still unclear why he stepped down.
John Schnatter has been one of the most recognizable names in fast food. However, he ran into controversy when he blamed the NFL players’ kneeling in protest during the National Anthem on the company’s declining sales. Papa John’s is one of the NFL’s top sponsors.
Schnatter got into hot water during a conference call with investors. Referencing the NFL players’ highly controversial pre-game protests, he said “This should have been nipped in the bud a year and a half ago.” He also asserted that “The controversy is polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”
As is generally predictable when a company takes a strong, public political stance, Papa John’s quickly faced a strong, left-wing backlash on social media. Schnatter was criticized by thos who believe or claim to believe that NFL players were exercising free speech. But members of the NFL itself, as employers, are contractually entitled to regulate such behavior in the workplace, which in this case includes NFL stadiums during game time.
Currently, Papa John’s stock price is down more than 30 percent in 2017, although other factors may be involved in the decline of its shares.
John Schnatter founded Papa John’s 30 years ago. Since the company’s founding, he has been the face of the company. He has appeared in numerous TV ads along with former football great Peyton Manning. Schnatter previously stepped down in 2005, but later returned in 2008. Papa John’s said that Schnatter plans to pursue his “personal passion for entrepreneurship, leadership development and education.”
Schnatter has been one of the last CEOs to act as their brand’s advertising pitchman. That list of entrepreneur founders once included KFC’s Col. Harland Sanders and Wendy’s CEO Dave Thomas. Today, Papa John’s is the nation’s third-largest pizza chain and has more than 5,000 locations world wide.
Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie will replace Schnatter on Jan. 1. Ritchie started at Papa John’s 21 years ago and later became a franchise owner in 2006 and currently owns nine locations. He announced that new ads would begin airing next year and that Papa John’s has no plans to remove John from its advertising.