National Restaurant Association Turns to Spencer Stuart to Find CEO

May 21, 2019 – After suffering a massive hit during the Great Recession, employment and hiring within the travel, restaurant, hotel and hospitality industry continue to rebound. Last year, according to one set of survey metrics, the industry added more than 527,000 jobs (2.6 million since 2004). Overall, the industry is estimated to generate an economic impact of $6.5 trillion worldwide this year. In the U.S. alone, the $1.5 trillion industry accounts for nearly eight million jobs – more than five percent of the total jobs nationwide. This has created a massive uptick of hiring within the sector.

Recently, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation announced that president and CEO Dawn Sweeney will step down when her contract expires at the end of the year. Spencer Stuart has been enlisted to find a new leader.

Ms. Sweeney joined the organization 12 years ago, and since then NRA membership has grown by almost 50 percent. “Serving and leading the restaurant industry during this historic timeframe, when food service has grown to an $863 billion business employing over 15 million professionals, has been the most fulfilling experience of my career,” she said.

Until Ms. Sweeney leaves the organization, she will help Spencer Stuart and the NRA board find her replacement and work to gain the governing body’s approval of the NRA’s 2020-2024 strategic plan. “It is vital to me that we work to ensure the association and foundation have a smooth and seamless transition to plan for the future,” Ms. Sweeney said.

“Dawn has been an extraordinary leader for the restaurant and food service industry during a time of both challenge and opportunity,” said Joe Essa, 2019 association chair and president and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide. “The organization is well-positioned to continue to fulfill its mission to advance and protect the industry and has a strong foundation on which her successor will build.”

The National Restaurant Association is a restaurant industry business association in the U.S., representing more than 380,000 restaurant locations. It also operates the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which develops food safety training and certification program for restaurant employees. The association was founded in 1919 and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Shifting Sector

According to executive recruiters, the hospitality and leisure industry faces new challenges in the form of rapid global expansion, shifting trends in ownership and management, and emerging outbound travel markets. The sector requires visionary leaders with superior relationship skills, analytical sophistication and strong financial acumen.


Spencer Stuart Places Former Taco Bell CEO at Chipotle
Struggling to win back customers after multiple foodborne illness outbreaks, Chipotle Mexican Grill has hired former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as its new leader. Spencer Stuart led the search, which called for finding a CEO with proven turnaround expertise.


Spencer Stuart conducts board and CEO searches in hospitality and tourism with access to over 60,000 senior hospitality and leisure senior executives, according to the firm. The search firm has worked on 600 executive and board searches in the sector in the past three years. The practice has experience working for hospitality and leisure companies across a range of sectors spanning car rental, cruise lines, hotels and resorts, REITs and real estate development, restaurants, and travel and tourism.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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