He’s American, He Oversees Papa John’s in Russia and He’s Staying

“These are Russian-owned businesses, owned primarily by Russians or Russian institutions, that don’t share our beliefs or requirements,” said Michael Seid, the founder of MSA Worldwide, a global franchise advisory firm. “The Russian franchisee has debt, has to pay the employees. They’re going to do what is in their best interest, and it will all get sorted out later.”

In the two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Mr. Wynne said, it was clear from his conversations that executives with Papa John’s in the United States were nervous. Last Wednesday, Papa John’s temporarily cut ties with Mr. Wynne’s business in Russia when it said it would no longer “provide operational, marketing or business support to the Russian market.”

“Our perspectives diverged fairly quickly,” Mr. Wynne said a day later in a Zoom interview from Milan, where he was visiting before he planned to return to Russia this week. “I have a perspective where my interest is first and foremost my employees and franchisees and keeping the lines of cultural exchange with the Russian people open,” Mr. Wynne said.

“Papa John’s is worried about the corporate and political winds that, on a day-to-day basis, I cannot focus on,” he added. (Mr. Wynne’s business interests go beyond Papa John’s. During the pandemic, he began a CBD business in Colorado.)

In an emailed statement, Papa John’s said it believed its decision to pause operations in Russia was “supported by the vast majority of our team members, franchisees, customers and communities around the globe.”

Mr. Wynne’s wife is Russian, and the couple have a 2-year-old daughter. They have a farm in Colorado that they consider home, but still spend considerable time in Russia. While there, Mr. Wynne said, he spends his time during the week visiting Papa John’s locations “from Moscow to Siberia.” On the weekends, he goes fishing, takes family hikes in the hills outside Moscow and takes his daughter to the city’s playgrounds.

He said it “has never been my responsibility or right to comment about the politics in Russia,” instead focusing on the opportunities he believed his business gave to people in the country.

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