A full-on food fight, or just a little skirmish? Visiting New York this week for a big sports award program, Shaq took a few minutes to talk business with financial TV network CNBC. The topic? Shaq’s investment and involvement with Papa John’s Pizza, and the way the company’s founder fell from grace.
O’Neal told CNBC that Papa John’s founder John Schnatter made a “big mistake” with his choice of language, and in some of his dealings with the company’s board of directors. Shaq became a member of that board back in June after investing in the company through the purchase of nine company stores in the Atlanta area. That was just about a year after company founder Schnatter resigned as chairman for using a racial slur during a business conference call. Not only did Shaq join the board, he also took over for Schnatter as the primary star of the pizza chain’s TV commercials and other promotions.
Attending the Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award event in New York City, Shaq told CNBC, “We came in when [Schnatter] made the big mistake.”
Schnatter started the pizza chain back in 1984 as a part of a tavern owned by his father. The company would grow through the years, eventually topping 3,000 restaurants in 48 states and more than a dozen international locations. And while Schnatter has been out of the top job for some time…he continues to make news with some interesting charges and controversial statements about the company he still owns a large share of.
Earlier this year, Schnatter told the FOX Business Network that “No one on the board knows anything about pizza, and franchises are under a lot of duress” because the unit economics are not healthy. That may be up for economic debate; after Schnatter was forced out, Papa John’s International stock is up substantially this year. Schnatter is still making good money – he is still Papa John’s largest individual shareholder.Here’s the big deal: Just last month, in an interview with a local TV station in Louisville, Kentucky (where the company is headquartered), Schnatter said that he believes the company’s new management has changed his famous pizza recipe.
“I’ve had over 40 pizzas in the last 30 days, and it’s not the same pizza, it’s not the same product,” Schnatter told WDRB. Wow… he must have been REALLY hungry!
However… both Shaq and current company CEO Rob Lynch deny the recipe has changed. “Never. There is no change,” O’Neal said. And that’s when it got a little testy: “Sometimes people don’t know when to keep their mouths shut,” he added in response to Schnatter’s series of accusations.
Shaq told CNBC that he didn’t care what Schnatter said about him…that he’s on a mission to make Papa John’s the number one brand. Shaq added: “We don’t worry about him. He has bigger problems” he needs to handle.
Earlier this month (December, 2019) Schnatter filed a lawsuit against an advertising agency, charging the firm leaked an unauthorized recording of the infamous conference call that lead to his ousting. Also – and on the very same day – Schnatters’ wife of 32 years filed for divorce.