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National Restaurant Association taps Bené

Former foodservice executive to join NRA in June following yearlong search to replace Dawn Sweeney


May 22, 2020
By William Ehart

The National Restaurant Association has hired veteran corporate executive Tom Bené as president and CEO, effective June 1. He also will head the group’s educational foundation.

“Our industry’s operators, suppliers, and employees have been hardest hit by the coronavirus,” said Melvin Rodrigue, board chair of the association. “Tom’s business acumen, coupled with his remarkable record of success, will be invaluable for our members and our industry as we begin the process of reopening and rebuilding.”

Rodrigue also thanked Chief Financial and People Officer Marvin Irby for his “exemplary” service as interim CEO. Irby stepped into the role in December 2019 as Dawn Sweeney prepared to depart following 12 years as CEO.

Until January, Bené had been CEO of foodservice giant Sysco Corp., a publicly traded company with $60 billion revenue in fiscal year 2019 and nearly 70,000 employees before the pandemic.

He stepped down after two years as Sysco CEO, having been with the company since 2013. He was replaced by an executive from pharmacy-chain operator CVS.

“While Sysco’s performance has improved steadily the last few years, the board believes that the senior leadership changes announced (Jan. 13) will enable the company to accelerate performance,” a company statement said.

Though Sweeney was one of the highest-paid trade group CEOs, taking home nearly $4 million in 2018, Bené earned more in the corporate world. His total compensation, including awards of stock and stock options, was $10.7 million in 2019, as reported in public proxy statements. Sysco also reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in January that it would be paying its outgoing CEO severance of $6 million.

Prior to joining Sysco, Bené was president of PepsiCo Foodservice for two years, after holding a number of senior leadership roles in a 23-year career with the company.

Bené said he will work to harness the power of the entire restaurant sector.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to bring together the collective passion and influence of the full industry, including multi-unit, independent, and franchise operators, while continuing to build the next generation of foodservice leaders and employees,” he said in a statement.

The hiring caps a yearlong search by Spencer Stuart. Sweeney announced her retirement in May 2019.

Bené also takes on an association with a financial outlook transformed by the sale of its trade show to privately held company Winsight two years ago. The group’s 2018 tax returns indicate sale proceeds were about $170 million, though exact terms of the deal have not been disclosed. The association had reported revenue of $110 million the year before, not including income from its foundation.

Because of the sale, the association’s share of potential show revenue was sharply reduced, but so was its exposure to the risk that the show would decline or, as happened this year, be canceled. The National Restaurant Association Show, canceled because of coronavirus, had been scheduled to start May 22.