NEW YORK – Papa John's founder John Schnatter is no longer board chairman after using a racial slur, but his image is still part of the pizza chain's logo and he remains the company's largest shareholder.
The situation illustrates the difficulty when companies are closely tied to a single person, and that Papa John's may need to publicly distance itself further from Schnatter after dealing with backlashes brought about by his comments.
In more bad news for the company Thursday, the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays baseball teams announced they were suspending their relationships with Papa John's.
For now, however Papa John's manages its public image, Schnatter is still enmeshed in the company. He owns nearly 30 percent of the shares, and stayed on the board even after ceding his role as chairman.
Papa John's announced the change in board leadership following Schnatter's apology for using a racial slur during a conference call in May. He had stepped down as CEO last year after blaming disappointing pizza delivery sales on the outcry surrounding football players kneeling during the national anthem.
Schnatter has long been the face of the brand, appearing on pizza boxes and in TV ads for the chain.
Barron Harvey, dean of Howard University's business school, said this is a chance for the company to retool its marketing strategy so it's not so tied to one person.
"They have to see this as an opportunity, not a challenge," Harvey said.
Companies can leverage great personal stories to connect with customers, said Keith Hollingsworth, a professor at Morehouse College's business department. But he echoed the risks that come with marketing strategies that are overly dependent on a single individual.
"Anytime you're dealing with humans, you have no fallback," he said.