• New CEO at Restaurant Brands, NZ and Aussie Pizza Hut franchisee, making changes at struggling company

AUCKLAND, New Zealand--New Restaurant Brands CEO Vicki Salmon blames former management for the troubles that have hit the company over the past few months, and vows swift changes are in store to right the situation.

According to the New Zealand Herald, just days after her appointment to the role, Salmon blamed her predecessor, Jim Collier for RB's woes.

Salmon was acting CEO since Collier left the post in August to return to Australia. Since his departure, Salmon has overseen two profit warnings, one due to unexpected maintenance costs and another caused by failed marketing promotions.

The second warning, which detailed a $2 million downgrade, came just weeks after the company reassured shareholders that its earnings were on track.

Both warnings had the most effect on KFC, which accounts for more than half the company's sales. Restaurant Brands also operates several dozen Pizza Huts, as well as Starbucks units.

Since the company announced Collier's departure, its shares--issued at AUS $2.20 (U.S. $1.63) for the company's listing in 1997--have dropped from AUS $1.34 to $1.12 (U.S. 99 cents to 83 cents), losing more than AUS $20 million (U.S. $14.8 million) in shareholder value.

Salmon said "a company doesn't go bad in two months" and agreed that the problems should have been addressed long before her appointment.

When asked why they weren't, she said: "I'm not sure. My view is when a new chief executive comes in, you ask the questions and you uncover [the problems] and so you deal with them as they are uncovered.

"It's not that people are trying to hide it, they just didn't necessarily think it was a steam-train coming down to get you."

Salmon said that since she took over, the general manager at KFC had resigned by amicable agreement, and the Pizza Hut general manager also has moved on. More changes were expected, though.

Though Collier has been regarded as "relentlessly cheerful," Salmon describes herself as "An open pragmatic, friendly type of person." In a recent story in the Business Herald she added, "I say things how they are."

Apart from her role as an RB director, Salmon is a newcomer to the fast-food industry.

Her most recent chief executive role was with the Ellerslie Flower Show. Before that, she was chief executive of Group Rentals.

Still, she believes she can turn the company around.

"I wouldn't have put my hand up if I didn't think we could do a better job," she said.

See related stories ...
* Salmon swims in to top job at Restaurant Brands, Aussie Pizza Hut franchisor
* Q3 Pizza Hut comp-sales rise in N.Z., Australia
* New Zealand Pizza Hut sales rise in 1st half of '03

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