Linda Lang, Jack in the Box Inc.’s chair and chief executive, said Wednesday that she plans to retire as of Jan. 1, 2014, and will be replaced by Leonard Comma, the San Diego-based company’s president and chief operating officer.

The announcement came as the parent to the Jack in the Box and Qdoba Mexican Grill chains reported a net loss of $5.7 million, or a loss of 13 cents per share, for the July 7-ended third quarter compared with net income of $11.6 million, or 26 cents per share, a year ago.

The loss, however, reflected $36.7 million in pre-tax charges and another $11.4 million in charges related to lease obligations associated with the planned closure of 67 underperforming Qdoba locations, mostly during the third quarter.


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Looking only at continuing operations, the company recorded a 37-percent increase in earnings of $17.3 million, or 38 cents per share, compared with $12.6 million, or 28 cents per share, a year ago.

Lang, who joined the company in 1984, was named chair and CEO in 2005 after serving for two years as president and chief operating officer.

She first joined the company as an accounts payable supervisor but later was noticed for her leadership potential after the company went through a particularly dark period in 1993, when four children died and hundreds were sickened in a foodborne illness outbreak caused by tainted hamburgers at the chain.

Lang served on the crisis team that worked with franchisees after the incident. The company went on to become a leader in the development of food safety systems and turned its fortunes around.

Under Lang’s leadership, the quick-service Jack in the Box brand shifted to a more franchise-operated model, with about 77 percent of the 2,255-unit chain now owned by franchisees, compared with about 25 percent when she first took the helm. The chain’s presence also grew from 17 states to 21.

In addition, the Qdoba chain has expanded from 250 units in 37 states to 592 locations in 45 states and Canada.

David Goebel, lead director of Jack in the Box Inc.’s board, said in a statement: “Linda has done a remarkable job of leading the organization and transforming the business model. The company, its shareholders and other stakeholders are better off as a result of her vision and leadership. We are extremely grateful for her many contributions to the organization, which is well positioned for continued success.”

For the third quarter, the company’s revenue declined 1 percent to $350.3 million, from $354 million a year ago.

Third-quarter same-store sales for Jack in the Box rose systemwide by 0.1 percent, including a 1.2-percent increase at company-owned locations and a 0.3-percent decline at franchised units.

For Qdoba, same-store sales rose 1.3-percent systemwide, including a 0.5-percent increase at company-owned units and a 2.1-percent increase at franchised restaurants.

For the year, however, the company raised its outlook, projecting earnings of $1.72 to $1.78 per share, an increase from the $1.55 to $1.65 per share predicted earlier. The company expects same-store sales for the year to increase 1 percent for Jack in the Box and be flat to an increase of 1 percent at Qdoba.

“I’m proud of my accomplishments and grateful for the tremendous support and commitment of our employees, franchisees and business partners who have worked so hard to achieve the transformation of our business,” Lang said in a statement.

“I’m excited to see Lenny succeed me as chairman and CEO,” she added. “His extraordinary leadership skills, along with a great executive team that includes new Qdoba president Tim Casey, will enable the company to execute its strategic plan and continue its strong performance.”

Comma, who will take on the titles of chair, CEO and president once Lang retires, joined Jack in the Box Inc. in 2001 as director of convenience store and fuel operations for the company’s proprietary Quick Stuff convenience store chain, which was sold in 2009.

In 2007, he was promoted to vice president of operations, Division II, and oversaw nearly 1,200 restaurants in the West. In 2010, he became senior vice president and chief operating officer and in May 2012 he was promoted to his current position.

Before joining the company, Comma was a regional manager for ExxonMobile.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout