Buffalo Wild Wings Leadership Change May See It Leave Minnesota

Refranchising and other direct cost cutting measures are on the horizon for the sports bar giant.

MINNETONKA, Minn. – Long-time Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith announced her retirement as an activist investor took control of the company’s board shortly after, bringing an end to a year-long battle over strategy.

Mick McGuire, the founder and CEO of Marcato Capital Management, had been embroiled in a campaign focused on expanded franchising of Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants and international expansion. He pushed for up to 90 percent of the company’s restaurants to be franchised out, reports Business Insider.

Marcato had acquired a 10 percent stake in Buffalo Wild Wings, and three of its four director nominees were elected by stockholders to serve on the board at the company’s annual meeting in a Minnetonka hotel, reports the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. This includes McGuire, former CEO of YUM! Brands Scott Bergren, and President and CEO of CTI foods Sam Rovit. Rovit was also nominated by Buffalo Wild Wings’ management.

“We are very pleased that our fellow Buffalo Wild Wings shareholders recognize that additional change on the Board is warranted to return Buffalo Wild Wings to a path of growth and long-term value creation,” McGuire said, reports CNBC. “We will bring the fresh perspectives, restaurant industry expertise and oversight the Buffalo Wild Wings Board needs to spearhead improvements at the Company.”

Smith announced her intent to retire by the end of the year and withdrawal from board elections following an hour delay at the meeting, reports the Star Tribune. Smith has led the company for the past 21 years, and led it from annual sales of $55 million to about $2 billion.

McGuire will play a key role in selecting Smith’s successor, and is sure to prefer someone who shares his vision of Buffalo Wild Wings going forward. This may include moving the corporate headquarters out of Minnesota, reports the Star Tribune.

Anders Koskinen