Chris Meyer stands in front of a digital sign in New York City that reads 'Congratulations Christopher Meyer on your appointment as Chief Financial Officer" with the Blooming' Brands logo and NASDAQ logo.
Chris Meyer was honored with this sign in New York City's Times Square when he was appointed CFO of Bloomin' Brands in 2019.

Bloomin’ into a CFO

How Chris Meyer grew into the C-suite at Bloomin’ Brands.

For Chris Meyer (BSBA ’94, MBA ’03), the University of Florida felt like home. While North Palm Beach was his family’s base, his brother Geoff (BDes Arch ‘84, MArch ’86) was a UF student when Meyer was in his high school years. After visiting Geoff in Gainesville on multiple occasions, Meyer knew UF was the place for him.

Like many other UF students before him, while choosing UF was simple, deciding what he wanted to study was a challenge.

“At one point I was going to go into journalism, then history, then political science,” he said.

Meyer would ultimately land on business, finance specifically, as he recognized the subject would be the best foundation for a career that matched his skill set.

“I also knew it was a very versatile degree, and I could use it in a number of different jobs upon graduation,” he said.

Meyer’s education extended beyond the classroom. His involvement on campus was broad, even serving as President of Florida Blue Key, and it gave him the experiences he would need to succeed on his career journey.  

“I always knew though that in addition to getting a degree, learning how to communicate and manage people was a critical skill set that I needed for any future career,” he said. “My involvement on campus helped round out my skill set.”

Meyer can also credit UF with helping him get his first job out of college – store manager of a Toys R Us in Tampa.

“This opportunity came about via the UF on-campus recruiting process,” he said. “I am living proof that career resources provided by UF do work.”

Meyer’s education and experience allowed him to move into a finance position in the company’s Orlando office, but he would ultimately return to Tampa in pursuit of something else he cared about – his then girlfriend, now wife, Alison (MAcc ’97), who had taken a job with PwC after she graduated from UF.

After spending 5 years with KForce, a staffing company in Tampa, Meyer would start a role with Outback Steakhouse in 2004 that would change the trajectory of his career.

“Outback was a big name in Tampa, having been founded there in 1988,” he said. “I remember with ‘fondness’ the 3-hour wait times at the Outback in Gainesville and the food was always amazing. I really felt like this was a company that matched my passion for hospitality with a name and reputation that I would be proud to represent.”

Meyer’s first role with Outback was running the corporate finance department for six years, during which time he helped the company transition to private and make it through the challenging years of the Great Recession.

His hard-fought efforts earned him a promotion in 2010 to Vice President of Finance for Bonefish Grill, another concept in Outback’s portfolio of restaurants. Meyer notes this role was really what taught him about the ins-and-outs of operational finance, including things like menu pricing and labor planning.

His next role with Outback would add another important skillset to his portfolio. In 2012, the company went public and became Bloomin’ Brands, as it’s still known as today. With that change, Meyer took on the role of Treasurer and Investor Relations Officer of Bloomin’ Brands, where he took on additional responsibility in managing the company’s financials like accounting, tax, brand finance and corporate finance.

After 15 years and increasing responsibility with Bloomin’ Brands, Meyer earned a role in the C-suite, becoming Chief Financial Officer in 2019. Even though Meyer has only been in the role for 2 years, he’s already making waves.

Meyer was recently named a 2021 CFO of the Year Honoree by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, and after a year like 2020, it’s easy to see why he earned this honor.

“No question that navigating the pandemic has been the most challenging time of my career, but it also provided many of my proudest moments,” he said. “We really had to tighten our spending [at the beginning of the pandemic]…yet, in our industry, we know that the restaurant personnel in the field are the lifeblood of our company.”

He continued, “Even though it was a significant investment, we made the decision not to furlough or lay off any restaurant employees in 2020. Instead, we made relief payments totaling $45 million to our employees.”

While Meyer’s financial insights, like recognizing the need to drive free cash flow and spending thoughtfulness, were a significant reason Bloomin’ Brands was able to outperform most of the company’s competitors during the pandemic, he notes that it’s skills that he learned outside of the classroom that are key to thriving during challenging times.

“Learn how to communicate,” he said. “In my experience, the inability to communicate effectively is the single biggest barrier preventing people to move into the highest levels of organizations.”

Meyer isn’t just talking about presentations and public speaking, though.

“It is learning non-verbal cues, becoming a good listener and recognizing the proper way to respond depending on the situation. These skills can be acquired, and I highly recommend people spend time honing these skills. Of course, being a Gator is a good start!”

As the world starts to rev back up to its pre-pandemic hum, Meyer is focused on continuing to be the best CFO he can, with a few breaks to play golf with his 13-year-old son, visiting with his also Tampa-based brother Geoff, encouraging his 16-year-old daughter to consider following in his and his wife Alison’s UF footsteps as the next Gator in the Meyer family, and getting back to some Gator football.

“I love my Gators and cannot wait to see the football team back in action this fall in the Swamp!”