Skip to content

Darden promotes Rick Cardenas to CEO as Gene Lee retires

As new CEO of Darden, Cardenas take helm of multi-concept restaurant operator as of May 30, 2022

Darden Restaurants promoted Rick (Ricardo) Cardenas to chief executive officer, effective May 30, 2022. He has been serving as president and chief operating officer since January 2021. Cardenas will replace outgoing chairman and chief executive, Gene (Eugene) I. Lee, Jr. The 60-year-old Lee will retire May 29, marking the end of an era.

As a multi-concept restaurant company, Darden operates Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s.

With Lee’s retirement as CEO, an era ends

Lee will serve on the Board of Directors at Darden through the timing of the Annual Meeting of Shareholders. Executives expect that Lee will be re-elected to the board as non-executive chairman.

Advertisements

“The Board and I are delighted that Rick will serve as Darden’s next CEO,” said Lee. “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.”

Chuck (Charles) M. Sonsteby, Darden lead independent director, commented, “On behalf of the entire Darden board, I want to thank Gene for his strong leadership as CEO. 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.”

Sonsteby noted that during Lee’s time at Darden, the company’s revenues increased by more than $2B. Also, market capitalization increased approximately three-fold to nearly $20B. Concurrently, shareholders experienced a return equivalent to 1.5x the S&P 500 Index, he also observed.

Advertisements

“It has been a privilege to serve as Darden’s CEO for the past seven years and to work with the most dedicated and talented team members and management team in the industry,” said Lee. “As Chairman, I look forward to collaborating with Rick and our Board to help Darden achieve even higher levels of success.”

Rick Cardenas takes rein of $9B restaurant company

Cardenas, as the new CEO of Darden, is not expected to be a disruptor having grown through the ranks and worked with the most recent chief executives.

“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.”

“I was incredibly fortunate to work with each of Darden’s previous CEOs, so I have a strong appreciation for the legacy of leadership I am inheriting,” said Cardenas. “By upholding our commitment to operational excellence and maximizing the power of the Darden platform, we will continue to execute our strategy to drive growth and shareholder value.”

New CEO marks long history with Darden

Prior to his promotion to president and chief operating officer, he held the role of CFO since March 2016. Before taking the CFO spot, he served as SVP, senior president and chief strategy officer. In 1992, he joined the corporate team at Darden as an auditor.

Before beginning his corporate career, Cardenas graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Finance & Accounting. He earned his MBA from The Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College.

Advertisements

As the new CEO of Darden, Cardenas will appreciate the value of legacy. Cardenas has a long history with the brand. Before his start at corporate, he was an hourly worker at the store level.

About the publisher of this restaurant news site.