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Outback Steakhouse parent names new CEO: Liz Smith formerly of Avon

TAMPA — The parent of Outback Steakhouse stepped outside the struggling casual dining industry to call on Avon Products Inc. for a new chief executive.

Elizabeth "Liz" Smith, 46, brings a wealth of food and cosmetics marketing experience as replacement for Bill Allen III, whose five-year contract at OSI Restaurant Partners Inc. is expiring.

Allen, who will get $1.7 million in base salary and separation severance in lieu of a bonus through the rest of this year, will become OSI's first chairman of the board. Smith, who will move to Tampa, signed a five-year deal similar to Allen's that includes $1 million in salary, stock options and provisions for bonuses up to 85 percent of her salary.

OSI executives said Smith's track record managing multiple brands, running an efficient company and understanding consumers transcended her inexperience in the restaurant business.

"Liz is the right person to lead the business to the next level," said Chris Sullivan, one of the company's founders.

"My career has been devoted to rejuvenating and energizing consumer brand businesses," she said in a company statement. "This is an extraordinary opportunity to unleash the growth potential of a world-class company."

Named the 29th-most-powerful woman in American business by Fortune, Smith resigned last month as the No. 2 executive at Avon. She wanted to land a CEO's job when it became apparent her boss, Andrea Jung, who the same magazine named the fifth-most-powerful women, left retirement off her agenda.

"I'm 51, not 61," Jung told Fortune while heaping praise on Smith's role in turning around a beauty products giant that sells most products through a door-to-door sales force of 6 million independent contractors in 68 countries.

The restructuring at Avon, which generates 80 percent of $10.1 billion in revenue outside the United States, continues with domestic plant closings, staff cutbacks and outsourcing to foreign manufacturers. While profitability is up sharply, revenue is down 9 percent because of the global economy this year.

Before Avon, Smith rose quickly to head the U.S. grocery and beverages unit at Kraft Foods. During a 14-year career there, she ran such brands as Jell-O, Crystal Light and Cool Whip.

At OSI, she'll take charge of four restaurant chains eager to find ways out of a deep sales swoon that swept across the overbuilt casual dining industry even before the recession. Revenue was down 10 percent through the first half of 2009. Cost cutting, debt reduction and efficiencies cut the net loss to $3.9 million. That was a big improvement over a $186 million loss a year earlier.

Outback Steakhouse is the company's mother ship, with 970 of OSI's nearly 1,500 restaurants. But growth has been stymied by slumping sales at smaller Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and even more so at upscale Roy's and Fleming's Prime Statehouse & Wine Bar.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Outback Steakhouse parent names new CEO: Liz Smith formerly of Avon 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 11:17pm]
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