Panera’s CEO is stepping down to address a huge problem he believes is crippling the US economy

Ron Shaich serving
Panera CEO and founder Ron Shaich. Panera/David Elmes
  • Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich is stepping down at the end of the year.
  • Shaich wants more time to debate Wall Street’s obsession with short-term growth.
  • Short term-ism stops innovation and “makes us less competitive as an economy,” Shaich told Business Insider.

Panera’s founder and CEO is stepping down, but he isn’t shutting up.

On Wednesday, Ron Shaich told Business Insider that he is stepping down as CEO at the end of the year in part to address a problem he thinks is crippling the US economy.

“It allows me to really push this debate that I want to have, about how short-termism has infused our capital markets and our whole national discussion,” Shaich said.

“I speak as one of the most successful CEOs of the last 26 years,” he continued. “I’ve been a CEO longer than Cal Ripken played baseball. And yet, I can tell you — short-termism has pervaded capital markets.”

Shaich has long been outspoken on issues from nutrition to Wall Street’s follies. However, with JAB Holdings acquiring Panera in July for roughly $US7.5 billion, the Panera founder is now in the perfect position to discuss the dangers of the modern stock market’s hunger for short-term results.

“It stops innovation,” Shaich said. “It stops the very things that drive economic growth. And it makes us less competitive as an economy.”

At Panera, Shaich has long emphasised the long game. Things like swapping soda for beverages with lower-profit margins don’t help the chain in the short term, but Shaich has always maintained that they are crucial in the long term.

“It’s not complicated, it’s just hard to do and hard to stick with it. And hard to do really well,” Shaich said of focusing on the long term. “If you want to do it really well, it requires empathy. Empathy is climbing into somebody’s mind — it’s not just seeing what you feel.”

Panera also announced plans to acquire sandwich chain Au Bon Pain on Wednesday, something that Shaich calls a “completely separate issue.” Panera has its roots in Au Bon Pain, Inc. — a bakery-café created in the ’80s when Shaich combined his cookie shop with the small bakery chain Au Bon Pain.