By Frederick H. Lowe
Papa John ’s wants to rebound from slumping sales so company officials have named one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history to the pizza company’s board of directors.
Papa John’s, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky, yesterday named Shaquille O’Neal, an NBA Hall of Famer, to the company’s board. O’Neal will also be an investor in nine Papa John’s restaurants located in the Atlanta area.
“I am so excited to be joining the Papa John’s family as a member of the board of directors, a soon-to-be investor in nine franchises in Atlanta and an ambassador for the brand,” O’Neal said in a statement. His appointment was announced on CNBC, the cable business news network.
“We are thrilled to partner with Shaquille and welcome him to the Papa John’s Board,” said Jeff Smith, Board Chairman of the Papa John’s. “Shaquille has an excellent entrepreneurial background, including as a restaurant franchise owner, and is a natural creative marketer. Shaquille has demonstrated great success through understanding the customer value proposition with product and brand differentiation.
Steve Ritchie, president, and CEO of Papa John’s, said, “In addition to his business acumen, Shaquille understands how to build lasting connections with consumers and energize employees. I look forward to working with him as a board member and brand partner to advance the many initiatives we are pursuing across the organization to create even greater success for Papa John’s and our stakeholders.”
O’Neal has his work cut out for him. Facilitating the company’s turnaround will be challenging.
Papa John’s reported an 8.1 percent drop in 2018 fourth-quarter sales and a 7.3 percent drop in full-year 2018 sales, compared with 2017 sales in North America.
International sales for 2018 were down 2.6 percent compared with 2017’s fourth quarter and down 1.6 percent for the full year. The company reported 2018 full-year sales of $1,573 billion, down from $1,783 billion in 2017.
Papa John’s is traded on the NASDAQ. When it was announced that O’Neal was joining the board, the company’s stock price rose $2.91 per share to $49.80. Besides O’Neal, Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, and Jocelyn Mangan, founder, and CEO of Him for Her, also joined the board. Their appointments were announced before the company’s April 30th annual meeting.
Bad publicity blocked the company’s sales after former CEO and founder John Schnatter blamed National Football League executives for permitting players to kneel during the National Anthem to protest police murders of unarmed black men.
President Trump raised the issue when he screeched that the players should be fired.
Schnatter claimed the protests were dividing the country and hurting company sales. His competitors said, however, Papa John’s pizza didn’t taste very good and that was the reason for the drop in sales.
Schnatter also said he did not understand why he couldn’t refer to blacks as “niggers,” which Colonel Harlan Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, did without facing any recriminations.
Schnatter used the word “nigger” during a conference call with editors of Forbes magazine. Schnatter, who is from Indiana, also said whites used to tie blacks to the rear of trucks and drag them until they died. Apparently, this is another accepted way of murdering black men. In 1998, three members of the Ku Klux Klan tied James Byrd Jr. to their truck and dragged him to his death in Jasper, Texas.
Facing increasingly intense pressure from the public and from his board, Schnatter later resigned as Papa John’s CEO and chairman.
O’Neal is a savvy businessman. He is a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings of the NBA, which he called the “Shaqramento Kings,” after he made in investment in 2013. He also owns Krispy Crème Doughnuts franchises in Atlanta. And he is the founder of fried chicken restaurants in Las Vegas and a fine dining restaurant in Los Angeles.
He appears in television ads for The General auto insurance company as well as other companies.
The 7’ 1”, 325 pound O’Neal is considered one of the greatest players in NBA history. During his career, he played center for six teams and has four NBA championship rings.
He ranks 15th in rebounds. He performs as a rapper and has released four rap albums to-date; he often works as a television sports analyst. In 2012, Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, awarded him a Ph.D. in organizational learning and leadership.
Shaq has a wide smile meaning he gets along with almost everyone except former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobi Bryant, but differences between the two may have settled.
After 19 seasons in the NBA, beginning in 1992 and ending in 2011, O’Neal says he no longer misses the game although he is an NBA analyst. He’s now a key player on Papa John’s new team.