Pizza Hut Names Former PepsiCo and Taco Bell Executives as Global Chief Brand Officer and U.S. CMO, Respectively

Plano-based Pizza Hut is bolstering its leadership team with the addition of Kalen Thornton as Global Chief Brand Officer and Melissa Friebe as U.S. Chief Marketing Officer. The strategic hires follow the recent appointment of Carl Loredo, former global CMO of Wendy's, as president of Pizza Hut U.S.

Plano-based restaurant company Pizza Hut has tapped top industry talent, bringing on seasoned veterans from PepsiCo and Taco Bell to lead its global and U.S. marketing efforts.

Kalen Thornton, a marketing powerhouse from PepsiCo, will take on the role of Global Chief Brand Officer starting June 10, reporting directly to Pizza Hut Division Chief Executive Officer Aaron Powell. Meanwhile, Melissa Friebe, a long-time executive at Taco Bell, steps in as the new Chief Marketing Officer for the U.S. market, reporting to incoming Pizza Hut U.S. President Carl Loredo.

Pizza Hut Division CEO Aaron Powell calls Thornton “a visionary and a proven leader who understands how to create memorable moments for consumers.”

In his new role, Thornton will lead Pizza Hut’s global brand strategy and oversee all aspects of marketing across 110 markets and territories. The company said that Thornton also will be responsible for guiding the brand to a new chapter of relevance — harnessing the power of strategic, engaging customer connections across physical and digital touchpoints and ensuring that the brand maintains its status as a cultural icon.

“With a strong record of building celebrated global brands, Kalen is the right leader to help us connect a new generation through the joy of pizza,” Powell said in a statement. “I am thrilled for him to join our team and help us take Pizza Hut to the next level.”

Bringing big brand marketing expertise

Most recently, Thornton was vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for PepsiCo North America, where he led partnerships and built brand affinity across sports entertainment properties — leveraging media, content, and activation investments to drive growth for the beverage portfolio. While at PepsiCo, he also served as chief marketing officer of Gatorade.

Before that, Thornton held multiple marketing leadership roles for the Nike and Jordan brands over nearly 10 years, where he was instrumental in leading transformational brand initiatives.

Thornton said Pizza Hut offers great opportunity.

“I believe creativity, community, and culture bring people together,” Thornton said. “I’m humbled at the opportunity to contribute to Pizza Hut’s long legacy as a brand that connects across those dimensions, and I’m thrilled to help shape the future resonance and growth of this iconic brand.”

Friebe comes to Pizza Hut from Taco Bell, where she served in a number of positions over nearly three decades with the brand, most recently as chief brand strategy officer. At Pizza Hut, Friebe will lead all aspects of marketing for the brand’s U.S. business.

Friebe will succeed Lindsay Morgan, who is leaving Pizza Hut after serving more than eight years in various marketing leadership roles.

“I am proud and excited that Pizza Hut is attracting top talent in the industry, and I’m confident that Kalen and Melissa will do great things in their new roles,” Powell said. “I’m also very grateful for the contributions that Lindsay Morgan has made to the Pizza Hut brand over the last many years, including our record-breaking World’s Largest Pizza activation and the successful launch of Melts, and we wish her well in her future endeavors.”

A subsidiary of Yum! Brands Inc., Pizza Hut was founded in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas. Pizza Hut operates more than 19,500 restaurants in 110 markets and territories.

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