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The world’s second-largest burger chain, which is owned by London-based Diageo PLC, has been flipping CEOs and other top executives as quickly as a fast-order cook during lunch-hour rush. Since July, when CEO Dennis Malamatinas stepped down after less than three years in charge, the Miami company has been in limbo. Currently headed by interim CEO Colin Storm — who came from Diageo’s Guinness unit — and Mikel Durham, head of North American operations, Burger King has been searching for a new CEO for nearly half a year now. The rumor mill has it that a pick is imminent, but the company has yet to make an announcement. “We have no news for you about the executive search,” says a company spokeswoman. The vacancy at the top spot isn’t the only thing concerning the company these days. In fact, CEO turnover is no news for Burger King: The average CEO tenure at the company has been less than two years since the mid-1970s. “It’s not our opinion that succession is the main issue [at Burger King],” said Ron Paul of Technomics, a research firm that follows the fast-food industry. “Management stability is.” He is seconded by a top restaurant industry recruiter. “There’s a complete lack of stability in the most senior levels [at Burger King],” says Alice Elliot, head of Elliot Associates, a nationwide executive search firm based in Tarrytown, N.Y. “That makes it hard to maintain morale. And that’s particularly hard whenever you have foreign management that isn’t based in your own backyard.” Indeed, in the wake of an expensive redo, disappointing same-store sales in the first two quarters, and an announcement by Diageo to partially spin off the fast-food chain, Burger King lost more than CEO Malamatinas, who left in July. Also gone are chief financial officer Colin Heggie, as well as Paul Clayton, the president of its North American division. Furthermore, in open rebellion against Diageo’s plans, Burger King franchisees hired an investment company to help with an unsuccessful bid to buy the entire company. If you believe Burger King representatives, the story isn’t about rats leaving a ship that’s about to be sold. The recent departures, says company spokeswoman Kim Miller, came after longtime tenures. And they weren’t pushed out by Burger King. Rather, she says, they were attracted by entrepreneurial opportunities. True, the new economy has been calling. Malamatinas decided to head back across the Atlantic Ocean to take the helm at Priceline.com’s Britain-based European operations. Heggie is now CFO of Fitness Holdings Worldwide in San Francisco, and Clayton is now head of San Francisco-based beverage retailer Jamba Juice. A new CFO hasn’t been hired because that should be the new CEO’s job, says Miller. And the search for the CEO hasn’t been successful yet because it takes time to find the right person. “We’re looking for somebody with public company experience,” she says. “Somebody who knows IPOs.” That’s because Diageo is sticking to its plans to float 20 percent of the company’s stock, she adds. “We have had enough candidates, but want to make sure we have the right one. We’re looking for someone with a four- to five-year commitment. Dennis Malamatinas left because he couldn’t make that long-term commitment. He has family in London.” Any internal deadline for the search? No, Miller says. And finding that Mr. Right may be even more difficult than usual for Burger King. Candidates might be scared by a lack of stability and could interpret the partial spin-off plans as lack of commitment, believes recruiter Elliot. She says Burger King should make sure there is stability by retracting its plans to take the burger chain public. Indeed, a new CEO who stays five years would set a new company record. Since 1976, the longest tenure of any CEO was the four years of Barry Gibbons, who headed the company from 1989 to 1993. Any comment from Gibbons about Burger King’s management turnover? “I’ve had my rearview mirrors surgically removed,” he says.

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