Bill Moreton to succeed Ron Shaich at Panera

by Eric Schroeder
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RICHMOND HEIGHTS, MO. — Bill Moreton, executive vice-president and co-chief operating officer, will become president and chief executive officer of Panera Bread Co. effective with the conclusion of the company’s next annual meeting, scheduled for May 13, 2010. He will succeed Ron Shaich, who will become executive chairman of the board.

"Bill has had a relationship with our company for over a decade," said Mr. Shaich, who co-founded Panera 28 years ago under its original name, Au Bon Pain Co., Inc. "We share similar values, experiences and the commitment to building a company we are proud of. I know Bill and our team are prepared and ready to continue doing just that. We have a transition in place that represents continuity."

Mr. Moreton joined Panera in 1998, serving as executive vice-president and chief financial and administrative officer until 2003, at which point he left Panera to join Potbelly Sandwich Works as president and c.f.o. He rejoined Panera in November 2008 as executive vice-president and co-c.o.o. Earlier in his career, Mr. Moreton was executive vice-president of subsidiary brand management and c.e.o. of the Baja Fresh subsidiary for Wendy’s.

In stepping down from his post as c.e.o., Mr. Shaich said he hopes to contribute to the broader world beyond Panera.

"This is something that has been in discussion for several years between me, the board and the senior management team," Mr. Shaich said. "Given my responsibilities to Panera, I have not had the time to explore how I might contribute beyond Panera. I feel confident doing so now that we have someone ready to assume the role of c.e.o. and given the strength of our management team."

He continued, "This is not about me leaving Panera, but rather it is my attempt to take what I have learned at Panera to the broader world."

In addition to the personnel announcement, Panera’s board of directors approved a three year share repurchase program of up to $600 million, beginning Nov. 20.

"We continue to look for opportunities to deploy our capital to drive earnings growth and shareholder returns," said Jeff Kip, senior vice-president and c.f.o. "Although investing in our core business remains our No. 1 priority, the board’s approval of this program is a vote of confidence on the growth potential of Panera and its ability to continue to generate cash flow and deploy that cash to generate appropriate returns. As a result, we will opportunistically return our cash to shareholders under this program."

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