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There are headless companies among us! Four public restaurant companies are currently without a permanent CEO, fallout from a transformative era and a difficult year for the industry.

Noodles, Ruby Tuesday, Cosi and Rave Restaurant Group (parent company of Pizza Inn and Pie Five) are all lacking a permanent leader at the top. And Ignite Restaurant Group, Famous Dave’s and Red Robin just made big changes at the top as well.

As these companies grapple with a radically different industry where consumers are changing habits, eating differently and in new venues, leadership teams are reacting swiftly.

“When times are tough and business is down, boards make changes,” said Guy Cote, an executive search partner at Heidrick & Struggles. “Oftentimes after a period of doing different things and results haven’t paid off, there’s limited tolerance for the same old.”

So who’s going to take the reins at these companies, beset by a challenging industry and facing a difficult transition? It depends on the company, and whether they are looking for a turnaround, an acquisition or a retrenching of the strongest locations. But each requires transformation.

“I do think the right CEO will be nimble to think about the business,” said Cote. “It’s which CEO can think about and reposition the business to then be attractive as it relates to growing the business, which also can be attractive to potentially selling the business.”

Those new leaders can come from a successful foodservice insider or from another industry. But getting them to leave a successful business or even come out of retirement can be tricky without outsized cash reserves—and that means equity. Getting a new leader to share in the success is a win on both sides when someone like Cote eventually finds a successor.

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