Darden chairman resigns

by Erica Shaffer
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Olive Garden restaurant exterior
Darden Restaurants, who owns Olive Garden, changed leadership on April 4.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Jeffrey Smith, chairman Darden Restaurants Inc., resigned from the board effective April 4. Smith, who also is CEO of activist shareholder Starboard Value LP, succeeded in replacing the entire board of directors at Darden in a shareholder revolt.

Jeffrey Smith, Starboard Value
Jeffrey Smith, former chairman of Darden Restaurants

“It is with mixed emotion that I leave the board of directors,” Smith said. “I will thoroughly miss working with the capable and talented people throughout the company and I am so incredibly proud of what we have been able to accomplish together.”

Smith’s departure comes as Darden reports better-than-expected third quarter results. For the three months ended Feb. 28, Darden reported same-store sales advanced 6.2 percent. Darden transitioned to a 52-week from a 53-week fiscal year, which offset fiscal period comparisons by one week. On a comparable calendar basis, same-store sales climbed 4.2 percent for the quarter.

“I am able to move on to other projects at this time because of the outstanding chemistry and capabilities of both the board and management,” Smith said.

The board unanimously elected Charles M. Sonsteby, a current independent director, as chairman. He currently is the chief administrative officer and CFO of The Michaels Companies Inc. Before joining Michaels Sonsteby served in various roles at Brinker International, Inc., including as executive vice president and CFO from 2001 until 2010. Brinker operates Chili’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy and other restaurant chains.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to chair the board of directors of this great company,” Sonsteby said. “I look forward to leading this strong board of talented directors and partnering with [CEO Eugene Lee] and his team to continue to deliver value for all of our stakeholders. I would like to thank Jeff for his terrific leadership and extraordinary efforts and wish him well with his other endeavors.”

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