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Yum Brands names head of Taco Bell Greg Creed as next CEO to succeed David Novak

This undated photo provided by Yum Brands shows Taco Bell head Greg Creed. Yum Brands on Thursday, May 1, 2014 named Creed as its next CEO, marking a major promotion for the creator of Doritos Locos Tacos. (AP Photo/Yum Brands)

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This undated photo provided by Yum Brands shows Taco Bell head Greg Creed. Yum Brands on Thursday, May 1, 2014 named Creed as its next CEO, marking a major promotion for the creator of Doritos Locos Tacos. (AP Photo/Yum Brands)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Yum Brands named the head of its Taco Bell chain as its next CEO, marking a major promotion for the man responsible for Doritos Locos Tacos.

The company, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut, says Greg Creed will become CEO Jan. 1, 2015. The 56-year-old Australian replaces David Novak, who has served as chief executive since 1999.

Creed is credited with turning around Taco Bell's image with the rollout of its popular Doritos-flavored tacos in March 2012. Since then, the chain has been touting its "Live Mas" slogan and trying to push into new areas. It rolled out a more premium line called Cantina Bell positioned to compete with Chipotle, as well as a breakfast menu that includes a waffle taco. Whether Cantina Bell and breakfast prove to be successful is yet to be seen, however.

Creed, a 20-year veteran at Yum, has served as its chief operations officer and is known for his personable and frank manner.

"I'm the Australian guy selling Mexican food to Americans," he said in an interview with ABC's "Nightline" last year.

The promotion isn't entirely surprising; Creed has largely been absent from media interviews in recent months, with Taco Bell president Brian Niccol instead making public appearances on behalf of the chain.

Yum said that Novak, 61, will become executive chairman after the handoff.

The company, based in Louisville, Kentucky, has seen mixed results from its three fast-food chains around the world. In the U.S., Taco Bell's recent performance has been a source of pride for the company, as KFC and Pizza Hut have continued to struggle with declining sales.

In China, however, KFC is the company's flagship chain. It makes Yum the biggest Western fast-food operator in the country and has been an important growth driver for the company. More recently, the company is working to recover from a controversy over its poultry supply that sent sales down starting in late 2012.

Novak's exit as CEO comes after Yum reported improved results in China in the first quarter, suggesting the unit could be back on stable footing.

Yum Brands Inc. said it will also form an Office of the Chairman that includes Novak, Creed and Sam Su, the 62-year-old head of the company's important China division.

Taco Bell's shares fell 80 cents to $76.19 in afternoon trading.

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Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi

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