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Bené exits National Restaurant Association after 14 months

CEO leaves after leading organization through one of the most difficult periods in the industry’s history


Aug. 31, 2021
By Walt Williams

Tom Bené is stepping down as CEO of the National Restaurant Association after slightly more than a year to become head of alcohol beverage distributor Breakthru Beverage Group, according to separate statements by the association and company. Marvin Irby, CFO and chief people officer, has been named interim CEO.

Bené joined the $124 million-revenue restaurant association in June 2020 after the departure of former CEO Dawn Sweeney the previous year. He had previously been CEO of foodservice giant Sysco Corp.

Bené led the association and its foundation through one of the most devastating periods in history for restaurants, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing tens of thousands of restaurants to permanently close and many others to lay off employees. The disaster is still unfolding, and NRA continues to push for more federal assistance for the industry.

“I am incredibly proud of the work this team has done and all that we have accomplished together during this incredible time,” Bené said in an association statement. “Whether it’s the significant impact we’ve made to support the industry through our advocacy efforts; the new governance model that we put in place to drive deeper engagement and more effectiveness; or the restructuring of the organization to meet the changing needs of the industry, our state associations, and our members, it has been a truly collaborative effort.”

Bené will begin his new job as CEO of Breakthru Beverage Group on Oct. 4. The company’s board of directors cited the executive’s previous leadership of both NRA and Sysco as a reason for his hiring.

Irby previously led the association as interim CEO during the roughly half-year period between Sweeney’s departure and Bené’s arrival. He joined the organization in 2010 after previously holding executive positions at Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Disney. 

A task force is being formed to oversee the search for a new CEO, the association said in a statement.