Red Lobster hires Horace Dawson CEO after yearlong search
Horace Dawson has been appointed as the CEO of Red Lobster, filling the role after more than a year of vacancy.
The restaurant chain, headquartered in Orlando, Florida U.S.A., was purchased in 2020 by Thai Union, Red Lobster management, and an investor group named the Seafood Alliance, which jointly announced Dawson's appointment.
Dawson has served as executive vice president and general counsel of Red Lobster since 2014, leading its legal affairs, communications, risk management, and government relations work. He will also join the board of the company, which operates more than 700 restaurants globally.
"I am very excited to be stepping into the role of CEO for Red Lobster. This is an important time for our brand. We are continuing to evolve our menu and guest experience to give our guests more of what they want every time they visit one of our restaurants," Dawson said.
Dawson said he is looking forward to working with his teams “to address the challenges we face in light of industry headwinds and to execute on our plans and deliver results.”
Paul Kenny, a longtime member of Red Lobster's board of directors who was serving as the liaison between Red Lobster's leadership and the board during the CEO search, will now serve as board chair.
Red Lobster’s former CEO, Kelli Valade, resigned in April 2022 after only eight months in the role, becoming Denny’s CEO in May 2022. Pacific Management Consulting Group Founding Principal John Gordon told the Orlando Sentinel in April 2022 Valade’s swift departure was “very, very, very bad.”
“No CEO anywhere wants to be on board a company for only eight months. That says it all. That is an indicator of severe stress and malfunction that you can only stay on a job eight months before some sort of irreparable break occurs,” Gordon said. “This kind of [move] causes a shiver of ice to go through the management ranks.”
As a result, David Schmidt, who was named chief financial officer at Red Lobster in March 2022, left the company in September 2022 to become the president of Keke’s Breakfast Café, a restaurant chain purchased by Denny’s, the Orlando Sentinel reported .
“This sometimes is the problem with being in a company that is undergoing management change, is that it has an effect up and down the ranks in terms of difficulty in recruiting people,” Gordon said. “Anytime there’s a change at the CEO level, then that causes change all throughout the organization.”
Dawson, a 30-year restaurant industry veteran, previously served as president and division general counsel for Darden Restaurants and vice president of business affairs and general counsel of Hard Rock Cafe International. He also has served on the boards of directors of the National Restaurant Association, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Restaurant Law Center, and Stronger America Through Seafood.
Kenny has more than 50 years of experience in the food industry, most recently holding positions as CEO and executive advisor of the Minor Food Group, and served as a director on the board of Minor International.
Photo courtesy of Red Lobster