Papa John's Taps Director Kirtley for Chair After Founder's Exit

(Bloomberg) -- Papa John’s International Inc. has appointed independent director Olivia F. Kirtley as chair after the pizza maker’s outspoken founder John Schnatter resigned earlier this month.

The board -- which includes Schnatter -- voted unanimously for Kirtley, the company said in a statement. The company also said that its board’s corporate governance and nominating committee has been conducting a search for additional independent directors and “intends to engage with Papa John’s shareholders as part of this process.”

Former Chairman Schnatter came under pressure after a July 11 media report that he used a racial slur and graphic descriptions of violence against minorities on a May conference call with a media agency. He admitted to using the slur but said he was taken out of context. That was just months after he exited the chief executive officer job over critical comments about the National Football League’s national-anthem controversy.

Schnatter has since said he regrets resigning as chairman and is mounting a campaign for new leadership at the company, including the chief executive officer and members of the board. He also has asked a Delaware court to force the company to provide documents related to his departure.

A spokesman for Schnatter declined to comment on the board’s vote.

Kirtley’s Background

Kirtley, a certified public accountant, is a business consultant on strategic and corporate governance issues, the company said. She has served as the board’s lead independent director since 2017.

Papa John’s is struggling to revive its business as Domino’s Pizza Inc. and a resurgent Pizza Hut eat into its market share. In the first quarter, Papa John’s same-store sales in North America dropped 5.3 percent. The chain has said it’s trying to appeal to more cash-strapped customers by pushing discounted fare. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut has taken over as an official NFL sponsor.

“We know we can do better and I’m confident that we will,” Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie said in May. “We expect sales to improve later this year as our new marketing and technology initiatives roll out.”

Schnatter, 56, has said he’s not interested in returning as CEO, but wants to have a role in plotting a comeback for the chain.

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