Marcato seeks resignation of Buffalo Wild Wings CEO

by Erica Shaffer
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The shareholder submitted proxy materials and a detailed list of Sally Smith and management "failures."
 

SAN FRANCISCO – Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. has not announced the date of its annual shareholders’ meeting, but activist investor Marcato Capital Management LP already has contributed to the meeting agenda.

The company filed definitive proxy statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the election of Scott Bergren, Sam Rovit, Lee Sanders and Mick McGuire to Buffalo Wild Wings’ board of directors.

Marcato owns a 6.1 percent interest in Buffalo Wild Wings, and has publicly challenged the company’s board to make leadership and structural changes that Marcato believes are necessary to increase shareholder value.

“Simply put, the financial and operational performance of Buffalo Wild Wings over the past several years has been inexcusable,” Mark McGuire, managing partner and founder of Marcato, said in a statement. “Shares have underperformed virtually every relevant benchmark on a 1-year, 3-year and 5-year basis, and restaurant margins are at their lowest level since the financial crisis.”

In addition to changes at the board level, Marcato also wants CEO Sally Smith to resign. In a letter to shareholders, Marcato said “…In our view, in order for Buffalo Wild Wings to regain its competitive advantage in the crowded restaurant universe and substantively increase long-term shareholder value, the Buffalo Wild Wings Board must be further strengthened. Moreover, CEO Sally J. Smith should resign, so that the company can properly address these significant operational and financial deficiencies that have occurred under her watch.”

In response to the filing, a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson said in a statement: “Over the past decade, Buffalo Wild Wings’ performance has consistently led the casual dining industry, delivering superior results to our shareholders while providing a differentiated guest experience to our customers. Under CEO Sally Smith’s leadership since its IPO in 2003, the company has generated total returns for shareholders of 1697 percent. In fact, $10,000 invested in Buffalo Wild Wings stock at the IPO was worth more than $175,000 on March 31, 2017. The company has continued to innovate and pursue cost savings initiatives amid difficult market conditions for the sector and remains focused on creating sustainable value for our shareholders.”

Marcato also released an in-depth presentation explaining areas where Smith and other Buffalo Wild Wings executives have failed to address critical business issues. Share price, margin deficiencies, guest experience, and capital deployment were among the areas of the Buffalo Wild Wings business that continue to struggle. Marcato also would like a 90 percent franchisee-owned business model.

But Smith is not without supporters. Atlanta-based Franchise Business Services (FBS), an association representing Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees, announced its support for Smith and her management team.

And in March, Buffalo Wild Wings announced plans to sell 10 percent of its company owned restaurants following a disappointing fourth quarter performance. For the quarter, the company reported a 38.2 percent decrease in net income to $15.6 million and full-year earnings slipped 0.3 percent to $94.7 million. Same-store sales decreased 2.4 percent at company owned restaurants and 2.7 percent at franchise locations for fiscal 2016.

The company also selected one of Marcato’s nominees for its slate of board candidates. Buffalo Wild Wings nominated Sam Rovit, CEO of CTI Foods, to stand for election to the company’s board. But Marcato said that the nomination didn’t go far enough to correct problems at the company.

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