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Investors and Customers are Eager to See How Papa John's Proceeds

For Papa John's new CEO and president, Steve Ritchie, pizza is much more than a tasty meal; for Ritchie, pizza is and has always been a way of life. And if his words and many years of service are any indication, he'll look to play a major role in the industry for quite a while to come.

The Kentucky native began his career with Papa John's in 1996, working as an order taker and earning slightly more than the minimum wage. His stellar performance in this capacity secured him a promotion to manager, and he went on to oversee multiple locations' day-to-day and long-term operations. He purchased his own Papa franchise at the age of 18, and his consistency, reliability, and dedication to the brand resulted in his being promoted several additional times. At the end of 2018, he was selected by the pizza chain's founder, John Schnatter, to become CEO. Steve even skipped college—he most certainly could have afforded to attend, what with his own franchise—in favor of broadening his knowledge and understanding of the mechanisms that make the company tick.

Accordingly, it goes without saying that Ritchie knows pizza—and the brand he's been part of for the past 25 years—inside and out.

Despite this ample experience and firsthand knowledge of the Papa brand, Ritchie's time at the head of the company hasn't been completely smooth; even he would agree that the experience has come with far too much turbulence. The largest and most prominent contributor to this turbulence has been Papa John himself.

Although Schnatter chose Steve Ritchie to serve as CEO, he's been decidedly dissatisfied with his protégé's performance, and he hasn't been shy about saying as much. This dissatisfaction, unlike many other professional disagreements, has been aired publicly; Schnatter has criticized Ritchie's performance and claimed that the man doesn't possess the skills required to lead the company.

The profits, sales volume, and stock value of the company have decreased since Schnatter was replaced by Ritchie. However, while the former blames Ritchie's direction for this downturn, Ritchie and several of his company's marketing and development officials have indicated their belief that slipping sales have resulted from past controversy and less-than-stellar marketing initiatives.

All parties involved have agreed that airing grievances in public is hardly good for business.

A major step towards normalcy (for both the organization and Steve Ritchie) was recently taken, as John Schnatter, who owns about one-third of the company, agreed to step down from the board of directors—provided that he's able to help select his successor. Papa John’s also agreed to drop a lawsuit that he filed against the company's board of directors last year, after he departed from his role as CEO. The stage has been set for Ritchie to focus freely on operating the company, and for the company's founder to influence the brand's direction in ways unrelated to its specific business model, marketing efforts, and short-term dilemmas.

Moving forward, financial experts are eager to see how—and if— the renowned pizza chain will be able to reinvent itself. The brand boasts more than 3,000 locations in the United States, and some pundits and industry professionals are confident that a successful comeback can be launched. Time will tell whether or not this will be the case, and also, how Ritchie will perform without quite so many non-business distractions requiring his focus.

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