Investors in Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD) were blindsided Tuesday by news that the company's longtime CEO would be stepping down. Selim Bassoul, who also served as chairman of the board, retired effective immediately and plans to focus on his family and the humanitarian efforts of his Bassoul Dignity Foundation. Bassoul will also continue to serve as a consultant to the board of directors.

Middleby announced that Timothy FitzGerald, who joined the company in 1998 and has served as chief financial officer since 2003, will take the reins as CEO and join the board.

Middleby CEO Selim Bassoul sits down with Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner at FoolFest 2015.

Middleby CEO Selim Bassoul sits down with Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner at FoolFest 2015.

A long history of success

Bassoul is well-known to Middleby investors, having helmed the company for more than 18 years. He joined the kitchen appliance maker in 1996 as president of the company's Southbend division. He was promoted to chief operating officer of Middleby in 1999 and was subsequently named chief executive officer in 2000. 

Middleby became an economic powerhouse under Bassoul's leadership. He helped pioneer the company's strategy of growth by acquisition -- focusing on acquiring innovative technology -- which led Middleby to purchase more than 70 other brands. His real claim to fame, though, was his successful track record of not only buying and integrating these complementary businesses, but also ratcheting up their profitability once they joined the company. 

This resulted in revenue that grew from just $100 million when Bassoul took the helm to nearly $3 billion today. Middleby's market cap has also exploded under Bassoul's guidance, growing from $40 million to nearly $7 billion today.

Middleby now features more than 85 brands under three broad categories: commercial foodservice equipment, food processing and bakery equipment, and residential kitchen appliances.

The one obvious stain on Bassoul's otherwise unblemished record was Middleby's acquisition of Viking in 2012, which was troubled from the very beginning. The residential appliance maker was plagued by product quality problems that resulted in the recall of more than 100,000 products. 

Gordon O'Brien, who served as lead independent director of Middleby's board, will assume the role of chairman. He had this to say about Bassoul:

Under his direction, Middleby transformed its business portfolio, expanded globally and enhanced its position as a leading manufacturer of commercial, residential and food processing equipment and we wish him the best in his retirement.

The stock's reaction

Wall Street loathes uncertainty, and the loss of a chief executive is an unknown in the best of times. Middleby's stock fell as much as 9% in the wake of the news before gaining back some of its losses and ending the day down about 7%. There were several things about this C-suite change that probably gave fuel to the decline and gave investors pause.

The timing of the announcement is odd, as the decision was made on the Saturday of a three-day weekend. Additionally, with the retirement of a long-standing executive, there is typically a period of overlap. The sudden, unexpected announcement and the immediate nature of the change likely left shareholders wondering what caused such a speedy departure.

Middleby sought to reassure investors by filling the position with a seasoned executive who has been with the company for two decades. Since Bassoul has been a key architect of Middleby's strategy, investors will be watching closely to ensure that the company's success continues.