Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said he has “no confidence” in the current management team at the pizza chain, including the CEO he handpicked as his successor, after executives forced his ouster last month over some off-color remarks he made on a conference call.
In an interview with CNBC, Schnatter said he doesn’t believe the current management team at Papa John’s “has the capability to run the company.”
“Franchisees don’t believe in this leadership, don’t believe in this management team and I don’t believe this board has the oversight or the confidence to help steer the company in the right direction,” he said.
Schnatter is locked in a bitter feud with the company he built into the nation’s third-largest pizza chain, saying executives should reinstate him as CEO. Schnatter gave up his position in November after he provoked public outrage by blaming weak pizza sales on “poor leadership” by the NFL, which Papa John’s sponsored, amid players kneeling during the national anthem. He then stepped down as chairman at the board’s behest last month after Forbes reported, and Schnatter confirmed, that he said the N-word during a media training call with PR firm Laundry Service in May.
He now says the company mishandled the controversy over his comments and should have defended him to the public. His statements, he says, were taken out of context and weren’t intended to be offensive.
Schnatter also said he promoted CEO Steve Ritchie, who took over in January, too quickly and Ritchie is in over his head.
“I like Steve as a person. I don’t like, of course, the way he’s gone about this. I think he’s been harsh, I think he’s been cruel,” he said. “Throwing the founder on the street isn’t healthy for anybody.”
Schnatter said he told the board a few months ago that Ritchie was “drowning” and “needed help.”
“One of my biggest limitations is that I have a tendency to over-promote, and I think that’s what I did with Steve,” Schnatter said of his protege.
The board of directors stripped Schnatter of his “Founders Agreement,” removed him from all marketing material and prohibited him from using corporate offices at the company’s Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters after he gave an interview July 13 to a local TV station claiming Laundry Service tried to extort $6 million from Papa John’s. Laundry Service has denied Schnatter’s claims. Papa John’s also enacted a poison pill provision intended to keep Schnatter from amassing more control over the company by increasing his 30 percent stake.
Last week, Schnatter sued his pizza chain, seeking documents related to his ouster as chairman and accusing the board of acting negligently or staging a possible coup. Schnatter’s lawyer said that he still hasn’t received any of the materials he requested, save for a letter saying the company would provide board meeting minutes.
Schnatter has retained his seat on the board and doesn’t intend to give it up anytime soon, despite rumors that directors may try to have him voted out.
“I am principal shareholder, I’m the founder and I’m a director, so I have plenty of say in what goes on and what doesn’t go on,” Schnatter said.
Papa John’s didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.