Dawn Sweeney Credited with Unifying Restaurant Industry

Just days before the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show, the woman who has led the association for the past 12 years announced that she would retire at the end of 2019.

Dawn Sweeney has been the president and CEO of the NRA since 2007 and has overseen a nearly 50 percent growth in association membership since that time. Under her leadership, the NRA refocused its Education Foundation to attract, empower, and advance the future workforce of the restaurant industry and she built a Unified Partnership Agreement with state restaurant associations to better align their work on advocacy and business solutions. In 2018, Sweeney led the largest business transaction in the organization’s history with the creation of an equity partnership with Winsight Media and the operational sale of the National Restaurant Association Show.

“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. “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. I have had the privilege of serving for 12 years — the longest tenure of any position in my career.”

Before leaving at the end of 2019, Sweeney will work to gain board approval for the NRA’s 2020-2024 strategic plan and will be involved in the search for a new CEO. “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,” she said.

Board leadership has hired consulting firm Spencer Stuart to assist with the CEO search.

Joe Essa, 2019 association chair and president and CEO of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, praised Sweeney’s work during her tenure. “Dawn has been an extraordinary leader for the restaurant and foodservice industry during a time of both challenge and opportunity,” he said. “She has unified our industry, expanded our impact, heightened our effectiveness, and navigated a number of significant public policy challenges. The organization 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.”