Steve Ritchie takes over as CEO after Papa John’s founder’s NFL comments backlash

Franchise founder John Schnatter is handing over the reins to experienced COO Steve Ritchie scarcely a month after sparking controversy with comments about NFL players protesting social injustice

Steve Ritchie takes over as CEO after Papa John’s founder’s NFL comments backlash

Steve Ritchie is stepping up as Papa John’s new CEO. Source: Papa John’s

Ever since he first launched Papa John’s restaurant in 1984, John Schnatter has spearheaded the pizza franchise’s impressive growth and today it has about 4,900 restaurants across the world, including almost 390 in the UK. However, he is now stepping down as CEO of the company, which will instead be lead by Steve Ritchie, Papa John’s chief operating officer (COO).

Schnatter has recently faced a public backlash after suggesting the NFL’s ratings had dropped, which in turn could’ve influenced Papa John’s selling fewer pizzas, because of the American football league’s “poor leadership” and the controversy surrounding players protesting social injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the American national anthem. As a result the company, a major sponsor of the NFL, faced a huge outcry, something that only became more heated after white supremacists jumped on his comments and claimed the brand as the ‘official pizza of the alt-right’. This lead the Papa John’s spokesman Peter Collins to speak with the Courier-Journal, unequivocally stating: “We do not want these individuals or groups to buy our pizza.”

However, when asked about what role the NFL controversy played in his promotion, Ritchie declined to comment. While he told the Wall Street Journal that “all of the PR things have been quite a distraction,” he added that he now wanted to “put the focus back on our people and pizza.”

But it’s hardly a secret why Schnatter would be comfortable letting Ritchie take control of his baby. He has steadily risen through the ranks of Papa John’s since starting off in 1996 as a customer service representative. During his two decades with the franchise, Ritchie has consistently demonstrated a high level of excellence as both a franchisee and as a member of the company’s executive team. Given his commitment to the company, it’s not surprising that he was added to the company’s succession plan in 2015, one year after being promoted to COO.

But while Schnatter will be stepping down as CEO, he will still remain chairman at Papa John’s. Commenting on the news, he said: “I am so proud of Steve – he has excelled at every job he’s ever held at Papa John’s – from being an hourly customer service rep, to a delivery driver, store general manager, director of operations, franchisee and most recently president. With 120,000 Papa John’s corporate and franchise employees, Steve will put the spotlight on our pizza and the most important ingredient – our team members. We couldn’t have a more proven leader to guide Papa John’s through its next stage of growth.”

Richie himself said that his promotion was a testament to the franchise’s commitment to nurturing talent within the company. “I am humbled to take on this role,” said Ritchie. “By focusing on our team members, we will deliver the world class experiences our customers deserve. At Papa John’s, any opportunity is achievable if you dedicate yourself to putting your best foot forward every day. I’m certain our future company leaders are delivering pizzas in one of our 5,000 stores around the world right now.”

We’re looking forward to see where he takes the company next.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson