Papa John's founder says successor not right fit for CEO

NEW YORK (Reuters) - John Schnatter, the founder and largest shareholder of Papa John's International Inc PZZA.O, said on Thursday that Steve Ritchie, who rose from a $6-per-hour employee to CEO with Schnatter's backing, should not be leading the company.

FILE PHOTO: John Schnatter (R) arrives at the 2011 American Music Awards in Los Angeles November 20, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

Schnatter, who owns about 30 percent of Papa John’s, made the comments in an interview after he sued the pizzeria chain earlier on Thursday for not producing documents related to his ouster following allegations of inappropriate behavior.

“Steve Ritchie would be a great executive for another company. I just don’t think he’s the right fit for Papa John’s at this time,” Schnatter said, adding that he has informed the board of his concerns.

Asked to comment on behalf of Ritchie and Papa John’s, a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement that it would not let Schnatter’s “numerous misstatements” distract the company and its customers.

Ritchie, who was previously Papa John’s president, took over as chief executive in January after Schnatter came under fire in November for criticizing the National Football League’s leadership over national anthem protests by players.

Schnatter said in the interview that the company’s performance had suffered under Ritchie. The company’s shares have dropped about 40 percent over the last 12 months.

“In my view, things are getting worse, not better. That is why the board needs to take action and shareholders may need to take action in regards to the board,” he said.

Schnatter said that as long as he owns such a big chunk of the company, he intended to stay on the board. He said the company had not indicated that it would hold a special meeting to oust him as a director.

Schnatter’s lawyers said they wanted to inspect company documents “because of the unexplained and heavy-handed way in which the company has treated him since the publication of a story that falsely accused him of using a racial slur.”

The spokesperson said the company was disappointed that Schnatter filed a “wasteful lawsuit” and that it had given him all the materials he was entitled to as a director.

The lawsuit was the latest installation in a weeks-long drama surrounding the pizza chain following a report by Forbes this month that Schnatter had used the “n-word” during a media training call that led to his ouster as chairman.

Papa John’s said earlier this week that it would implement a “poison pill” stock dilution that would act against any move by Schnatter to take a bigger stake.

Reporting by Alana Wise and Liana B. Baker in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy