Buffalo Wild Wings shares spike as shareholders vote for board shakeup, CEO announces retirement

Key Points
  • Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith said she would retire before the end of the year.
  • The restaurant chain has been under pressure from activist investor Marcato Capital.
  • At the company's shareholder meeting, three of Marcato's board nominees were elected.
Buffalo Wild Wings CEO to retire

Shares of Buffalo Wild Wings rose as much as 5.3 percent on Friday after three of activist investor Marcato's nominees were elected to the company's board and CEO Sally Smith said she would retire before the end of the year.

Investors voted to add Scott Bergren, Sam Rovit and Mick McGuire to the board during the company's annual shareholder meeting. Sam Rovit was also part of the company's slate. Marcato's fourth nominee, Lee Sanders, was not supported by investors.

"We are very pleased that our fellow Buffalo Wild Wings shareholders recognize that additional change on the Board is warranted to return Buffalo Wild Wings to a path of growth and long-term value creation," McGuire said in a statement. "We will bring the fresh perspectives, restaurant industry expertise and oversight the Buffalo Wild Wings Board needs to spearhead improvements at the Company."

Smith, who has been acting as CEO of Buffalo Wild Wings for nearly 21 years, withdrew her candidacy for election to the board at the 2017 annual shareholders meeting held Friday. The board will not be nominating a replacement for Smith.

"Sally has delivered countless contributions to Buffalo Wild Wings for more than two decades and much of our success to date is directly attributed to her leadership," Jerry Rose, chairman of the board of Buffalo Wild Wings, said in a statement. "Under her guidance and stewardship, Buffalo Wild Wings has transformed into an industry leader, and we look forward to continuing to work together to ensure a seamless transition of executive leadership."

Smith's departure comes after months of volleys between the chicken-wing chain and Marcato. McGuire first called for Smith to step down in April.

Marcato, which now holds a 9.9 percent stake in the company, has been pushing for the company to boost its franchised stores from 50 percent of its fleet to 90 percent and for Smith to step down from her post. The hedge fund, helmed by McGuire, believes this to be the solution to Buffalo Wild Wings' sluggish sales, slowing foot traffic and tight margins.

The company has touted strategies it is currently employing to improve its results such as testing smaller locations that can be opened in more heavily populated areas to focus on takeout and delivery. The chain also is trying marketing programs that are aimed at boosting check size and looking for ways to cut costs.

Prior to the vote, BTIG analyst Peter Saleh told CNBC that change is coming for the company. It is likely that management will exhibit more discipline around capital allocation and return of capital to shareholders, he said.

"I don't think the fundamentals are going to change for the company right away," Saleh said. "I don't think anything that happens today is going to impact the fundamentals of the company through 2017. Maybe in 2018, we will see."