ORLANDO, FLA. — Ricardo (Rick) Cardenas has been named chief executive officer of Darden Restaurants Inc., effective May 30, 2022. He will succeed Eugene I. Lee Jr., who will retire as CEO on May 29, 2022.

Cardenas has been president and chief operating officer at Darden since January. Earlier, he was chief financial officer since March 2016. Prior to that, he was senior vice president and chief strategy officer. He began his career with Darden as an hourly team member in 1984, before joining the restaurant support center team in 1992.

He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting. He also received a master’s degree in business administration from The Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College.

“The board and I are delighted that Rick will serve as Darden’s next CEO,” Lee said. “He has deep knowledge of our company and the industry and has been a valued strategic thought partner to me and the senior management team. I am confident that he has the integrity, vision and leadership skills necessary to ensure Darden and its brands continue to successfully grow and be of service to our team members, our guests and our shareholders.”

Lee, who has been president and CEO since February 2015, will continue to serve on the company’s board of directors as executive chairman until the 2022 annual meeting of shareholders. At that time, he is expected to stand for reelection to the board and continue as chairman in a non-executive capacity.

“On behalf of the entire Darden board, I want to thank Gene for his strong leadership as CEO,” said Charles M. Sonsteby, lead independent director. “During Gene’s tenure, Darden’s revenues increased by more than $2 billion and market capitalization increased approximately three-fold to nearly $20 billion. At the same time, total shareholder returns were 1.5x the S&P 500 Index. Gene has successfully led the company through significant change and unpredictability — most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic — with an unwavering focus on our guests and our team members. We look forward to continuing to work with Gene as chairman of the board.”

Darden is a restaurant company featuring a portfolio of differentiated brands that include Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V's.