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NRA CEO to retire at end of 2019

Dawn Sweeney to step down after a dozen years with industry group

After a dozen years as the leader of the National Restaurant Association, CEO and president Dawn Sweeney said Thursday that she will step down at the end of 2019.

Sweeney, who joined the restaurant association in 2007, said she would retire when her contract ends and will continue to lead the association and National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation as it works on its 2020-2024 strategic plan and assist board leadership in the search for her successor.

“Serving and leading the restaurant industry during this historic timeframe, when foodservice has grown to an $863 billion business employing over 15 million professionals, has been the most fulfilling experience of my career,” Sweeney said in a statement. 

Since 2007, the NRA said it has grown its membership by almost 50%, doubled its revenues and added members from many sectors of the industry. The organization also tripled the participation in the ServSafe food safety training programing, certifying more than 8 million industry professionals.

Last year, she led the deal for an equity partnership with Winsight Media and the operational sale of the National Restaurant Association Show, which will celebrate its 100th year when it starts Saturday in Chicago.

“We have accomplished much together, including important public policy victories at all levels of government, a broadened membership base representative of the industry at large, and a revitalized organization that has expanded and bolstered its advocacy and business capabilities,” Sweeney said. “It is vital to me that we work to ensure the association and foundation have a smooth and seamless transition to plan for the future.”

Joe Essa, the 2019 association chair and president and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, commended Sweeney’s tenure.

“Dawn has been an extraordinary leader for the restaurant and foodservice industry during a time of both challenge and opportunity,” Essa said in a statement. “She has unified our industry, expanded our impact, heightened our effectiveness and navigated a number of significant public policy challenges.”

Essa added that the association “is well-positioned to continue to fulfill its mission to advance and protect the industry and has a strong foundation on which her successor will build.”

Prior to joining the National Restaurant Association, Sweeney served as president of AARP Services, the taxable subsidiary of the American Association of Retired Persons. Previously, she worked for nearly a decade with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and began her career at the International Dairy Foods Association. 

Sweeney has appeared on the Nation’s Restaurant News Power List for several consecutive years, most recently in January.

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association represents more than one million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15 million employees.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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