At just 31, Damola Adamolekun became CEO of a billion-dollar food service empire

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 19, 2024 5:52 AM EDT
Damola Adamolekun. Photo credit: The Quintessential Gentleman

A testament to his exceptional achievements at a remarkably young age, Damola Adamolekun has been described as the “African biz whiz kid” and “Wall Street whiz”. At just 31, he took over as CEO of P.F. Chang’s, an international Asian-American fusion brand with more than 200 restaurants in 22 countries. The food service company generated annual revenues of approximately $1 billion under Adamolekun’s leadership.

“I always found [business] interesting, even when I was young. It captivated me intellectually. I started working when I was in high school and invested everything I made. I opened my first stock portfolio when I was 16, and really got into investing,” Adamolekun said about his early interest in finance.

The son of a neurologist and pharmacist, Adamolekun is a global citizen. He was born in Nigeria, and raised in Zimbabwe, the Netherlands and in the United States. He began working while in high school, investing all his income. While only a teenager, he opened his first stock portfolio and got into investing.

Adamolekun earned a bachelor’s in economics and political science from Brown University where he served as President of the Brown Investment Group. A member of the Ivy League champion Brown Football team, he gained leadership qualities such as duty, hard work, and sacrifice from playing the team sport. These core values would take him far in life, from Wall Street to the. C-Suite at P. F. Chang’s. Adamolekun went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he served as Portfolio Manager for the HBS Investment Club.

He began his career working as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs and then as a private equity associate at TPG Capital. Adamolekun became a partner at Paulson & Co. where he focused on private equity and public market control investments and was fundamental in sourcing and subsequent management of several of the firm’s largest investments. In 2019, he led the charge on a $700 million deal between Paulson and TriArtisan Capital Advisors LLC, which acquired P.F. Chang’s from Centerbridge Partners L.P.

Although Adamolekun had not planned on operating the company, he spent a year as its chief strategy officer. He made history when he became P.F. Chang’s first Black CEO in 2020, aged only 31. He prioritized the in-restaurant experience and off-premise sales through delivery and to-go orders at a time when the pandemic had negatively impacted the dine-in experience. Adamolekun and his team made other changes such as adding color to the dining rooms of their restaurants and changing menu items.

“My life is my work. My work is my life. I never really have been a person that separated work and life. It mixes. I thought it was fun. So it wasn’t like I had to go in on a Saturday. It was like ‘I got stuff to do, and I want to knock it out, or I want to look at something,” Adamolekun explained the method to his success.

Adamolekun turned around the popular Asian casual-dining restaurant chain, ensuring it survives the pandemic dip in business. Under his leadership, P.F. Chang’s sales climbed by over 30 percent in 2021, generating annual revenues of approximately $1 billion. Adamolekun left the casual-dining brand last year and currently serves as an operating partner in New York City-based principal investment firm, Garnett Station Partners.