GYG’s largest shareholder tightens grip on leadership as former Accent head joins founder as co-CEO

GYG’s largest shareholder tightens grip on leadership as former Accent head joins founder as co-CEO

(L-R) Guzman y Gomez's Hilton Brett and Steven Marks named as co-CEOs of the group

Guzman y Gomez’s largest shareholder has tightened its grip on the leadership of the Mexican restaurant chain with the appointment of Hilton Brett as co-CEO of the group in a change of tack by the company that will also see current CEO and founder Steven Marks remain at the helm.

The appointment comes just five months after Marks announced he would be stepping down as CEO to facilitate the company’s global expansion plans and a potential ASX listing.

Brett, who has been a non-executive director of Guzman y Gomez (GYG) for five years representing the company’s largest shareholder TDM Growth Partners, will become co-CEO with Marks. Brett has also been acting CFO for GYG over the past four months.

Brett, a former co-CEO of apparel and footwear retailer and distributor Accent Group (ASX: AX1), is currently operating partner at TDM and plans to exit that role to focus full time on the GYG leadership position.

GYG says that with a ‘proven ability to drive operational excellence, expand market presence and navigate the complexities of being a public company’, Brett will assist Marks to lead GYG as it expands further into the US and prepares for an IPO.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to announce Hilton Brett is joining me as co-CEO of Guzman y Gomez effective immediately,” Marks says.

“Hilton has been on the board of GYG for the last five years so his knowledge of GYG’s business model and our company culture didn’t need to be taught or learned.

“When he joined us in a full-time capacity as acting CFO four months ago, he immediately knew what needed to be done and got to work.”

Marks describes GYG is a ‘unique business’ with an opportunity to become the ‘biggest and best restaurant company in the world’.

The company, which is expanding into international markets with a keen interest in New York-born Marks’ home ground in the US, recorded a 32 per cent lift in network sales to $759 million in FY23.

GYG has 202 restaurants worldwide with most of those located in Australia and the rest in Singapore, Japan and the US. The group plans to open more than 40 new locations in Australia each year over the medium term with a target of eventually operating at least 1,000 restaurants in Australia alone.

“The most important thing for me was finding a co-CEO who would bring in the skills we needed for the next chapter of growth for GYG,” Marks says.

“Hilton has public market CEO experience, he’s scaled businesses and he knows finance, real estate, operations, procurement, legal and HR.

“Hilton has also shared the role of co-CEO in the past and therefore knows what it takes to succeed. We trust one another implicitly which is important in any working relationship but particularly one like ours where we’ll be working so closely.”

Under the co-leadership arrangement, Marks will oversee food, marketing, operations and the US, while Brett will lead finance, IT, HR, legal, real estate and investor relations.

“It had to be a really special and unique opportunity to get me to become a CEO again and, in my opinion, GYG is one of the best consumer businesses in the world,” Brett says.

“GYG’s restaurant economics are some of the best in the world and we have at least 800 more restaurants to roll out in Australia alone which gives us an unbelievable growth runway for many years to come. The opportunity to be part of this was too good to say no to. GYG really are reinventing fast food.”

Brett says he brings public market CEO experience to GYG, as well as experience in growth and scaling the business through 25 years’ experience in retail.

GYG was co-founded by Marks, a one-time short trader for a US-based hedge fund based in New York, with a single store in Sydney's inner suburb of Newtown in 2006 shortly after he relocated to Australia.

The new co-leadership arrangement between Marks and Brett is a surprise move by the private-equity-backed company after Marks announced in May his plans to step down as CEO amid a leadership transition that would drive a new growth phase for the group.

At the time, Marks said he would remain involved in the business focusing on brand and food.

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