Wendy’s taps PepsiCo exec Kirk Tanner as new CEO as burger chain fights off activist pressure

A ‘now hiring’ sign outside of a Wendy’s on October 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Wendy’s has tapped PepsiCo veteran Kirk Tanner as its new chief executive, effective Feb. 5, as the burger chain tries to boost its share price and ease pressure from activist investors.

Tanner is currently head of Pepsi’s North American beverage business. Prior to his time at the company’s drink unit, he spent three years leading Pepsi’s global food service division. In total, he has spent more than three decades with Pepsi.

Kirk Tanner, chief executive officer of North America beverages for PepsiCo Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg Power Players Summit in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. 

Marco Bello | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Outgoing Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor has been at the helm of the company since 2016. Under his leadership, Wendy’s successfully launched its breakfast menu nationwide, helping the company overtake Burger King as the second-largest U.S. burger chain by sales.

But the chain has also faced some setbacks during his tenure. Low-income consumers have cut back their spending at Wendy’s, and a large franchisee declared bankruptcy in November.

Shares of Wendy’s have fallen 14% over the last year, dragging its market cap down to $3.97 billion.

Activist investor Blackwells Capital is planning to challenge Wendy’s board, Reuters reported in December. The CEO transition could change the firm’s mind. But if Blackwells nominates its own board candidates, it’s kicking off a fight with another activist investor: Nelson Peltz, who is chair of Wendy’s board.

A year ago, Peltz dropped an effort by his firm Trian Fund Management to acquire the company, signaling confidence in its performance as Peltz pursued a proxy fight with Disney. Trian has been an investor in Wendy’s since 2005.

Wendy’s is expected to release its fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 15.

Pepsi also announced Thursday that Ram Krishnan, the company’s chief commercial officer and head of its international beverage division, will succeed Tanner as CEO of its North American beverage unit.