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Bojangles’ CEO steps down abruptly amid earnings slump

Clifton Rutledge, CEO of Bojangles', during an interview at Bojangles Corporate Headquarters in Charlotte on Aug. 14, 2015.
Clifton Rutledge, CEO of Bojangles', during an interview at Bojangles Corporate Headquarters in Charlotte on Aug. 14, 2015. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte-based Bojangles’ announced Monday that Clifton Rutledge has stepped down as CEO following a difficult year that saw a slump in profits and the company’s stock price.

In a statement, the chicken-and-biscuits chain said Rutledge left the company “for personal reasons.” Former CEO James “Randy” Kibler has stepped in as interim CEO. The board said it has begun a search for a permanent president and CEO.

“(Kibler)’s familiarity and leadership as our previous president and CEO is ideal for ensuring a smooth and orderly transition during this interim period. We would also like to thank Clifton for his dedicated service to Bojangles’ and respect his personal decision to resign. We wish him all the best,” board director William Kussell said.

Rutledge said he is stepping down to spend more time with his family.

Rutledge spent about 14 years at Texas-based Whataburger before coming to Bojangles’ in early 2014. He steered the local chain through its initial public offering in May 2015 and laid out an ambitious expansion plan that included growth in the Southeast. But in the past year the company’s financial results have disappointed investors.

While Bojangles’ sales were up 1.7 percent for the first nine months of 2017, the restaurant chain’s earnings were down nearly 17 percent. The company reports fourth-quarter earnings after the closing bell Tuesday.

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Randy Kibler, Bojangles’ former CEO, stepped back into the role in an interim basis after Clifton Rutledge resigned in March. In this 2008 file photo, Kibler took a walk through a Bojangles’ in Charlotte. GARY O'BRIEN Observer file photo

Meanwhile, the company’s stock price is down more than 27 percent from its IPO price of $19, falling more than 36 percent during 2017. On Monday, Bojangles’ shares rose nearly 2 percent to close at $13.75 but dropped more than 1 percent to $13.60 in after-hours trading following the CEO announcement.

In a research note last month, investment group CL King wrote that Bojangles’ could be an acquisition target – “given its recent underperformance” – for Inspire Brands, the restaurant group that Arby’s formed when it acquired Buffalo Wild Wings this month.

Bojangles’ was founded in Charlotte in 1977. Before the chain went public, the private equity firm Advent International bought a controlling stake in 2011 from Falfurrias Capital Partners, the Charlotte private-equity firm co-founded by former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. and Marc Oken, a former Bank of America chief financial officer.

Rutledge’s departure marked the fifth CEO change among major local public companies since the beginning of this year, with new leaders also taking charge at Bubble Wrap maker Sealed Air, hotelier Extended Stay America, industrial conglomerate Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises and door and window maker Jeld-Wen Holding. The latter company announced last week that it had reached a “mutual agreement” to part ways with CEO Mark Beck.

Staff writer Rick Rothacker contributed.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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