SONIC Corp. (NASDAQ: SONC) today announced that Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Cliff Hudson, will retire and that President Claudia San Pedro will lead the company, effective as of the closing of SONIC’s proposed acquisition by Inspire Brands, which is expected to occur in December, subject to shareholder approval. Mr. Hudson will assist with the transition, serving as Senior Advisor to SONIC until March 2019. Following completion of the transaction, Ms. San Pedro will report to Inspire Chief Executive Officer Paul Brown and will serve as part of the Inspire executive team.
Mr. Hudson is a 34-year veteran of SONIC, joining as assistant general counsel in 1984. Appointed as CEO in 1995, Hudson led the brand’s growth from nearly 1,500 drive-ins in 27 states with systemwide sales of $905 million to 3,600 drive-ins in 45 states and systemwide sales of $4.5 billion. Only SONIC’s founder, Troy Smith Sr., led the company for a longer period of time (1953-1983). During Mr. Hudson’s leadership tenure, SONIC has become recognized as a champion for diversity and inclusion as well as a strong supporter of public education and community organizations across the state and nation.
“Only two men, Troy Smith and Cliff Hudson, have led SONIC through most of its 65 years. My dad bought a small, walkup root beer stand in 1953 in Shawnee, Oklahoma; out of that SONIC was born with its canopies, speakers, carhops and, at the center of it all, franchisees,” said Leslie Smith Baugh, Troy Smith’s daughter who is still engaged in the SONIC business through real estate. “Cliff, while maintaining the values and traditions, took SONIC to a place of national recognition in the restaurant world. Both men were devoted to SONIC and it took both of them for the company to be the success it is today. My dad would want me to thank Cliff for his years of service in making SONIC America’s Drive-In. He would also want me to acknowledge the kind, thoughtful relationship he and his wife, Leslie, have had with our family.”
“It has been a great honor and privilege to lead, build and grow SONIC into the incredible brand it is today together with our dedicated franchisees and employees,” said Mr. Hudson. “Leading the company and brand Troy Smith founded 65 years ago has been the pleasure of a lifetime, and I know he would be proud of the growth that both the company and our franchisees have achieved.
“I am delighted that Inspire has selected Claudia to continue as President. She has shown terrific leadership and deep strategic insight throughout her roles at the company, and I’m confident that she is the right person to lead SONIC going forward. I look forward to supporting Claudia and the team through the transition and watching SONIC succeed for many years to come.”
“Leading SONIC into its next chapter and continuing the great work of Cliff, our franchisees and company employees is an incredible honor,” said Ms. San Pedro. “Cliff has set an extraordinary example in driving innovation and long-term business performance, while also fostering a culture of collaboration and compassion. I am excited to work with both the SONIC and Inspire teams to build on our momentum and to continue delivering unparalleled experiences and innovative menu items to our valued guests.”
Ms. San Pedro was named President of SONIC in January 2018 and has served in various leadership roles at the company throughout her 12-year tenure. She joined SONIC in 2006 as Treasurer and was subsequently promoted to Vice President of Investor Relations. In 2015, she was named Chief Financial Officer, where she led all financial strategies for the company as well as the brand’s relationship with the financial community. Prior to SONIC, she served as the director for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance.
“Cliff is a remarkable leader and visionary whose accomplishments at SONIC and the restaurant industry have long been admired,” said Paul Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Inspire Brands. “As Sonic begins this exciting new chapter, I’m confident that Claudia will continue the brand’s strong momentum. Claudia’s skill and vision are well respected within our industry, and I look forward to working with her to ensure that SONIC has the capabilities and resources it needs for long-term growth.”