How Seven CEOs will Change the Food Industry

Fourteen of the 15 largest food companies have changed CEOs in the past three years. Here’s a look at how seven of them will change the food industry.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Despite all the bad press, the Omaha, Neb., company still stands. ConAgra Foods is, in fact, a shadow of its former self … and most analysts and investors are pleased. The company was $25.4 billion in sales as recently as 2002, but last year recorded just $12 billion. More importantly, net income last year was $765 million, just $18 million shy of the $25 billion days. 

Rodkin was considered a marketing whiz at PepsiCo and General Mills. Before joining ConAgra, Rodkin served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Beverages and Foods North America (consumer products and manufacturing), and before that he led Pepsico’s Tropicana unit.

Earning a BA from Rutgers University in Economics and an MBA from Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, he held marketing and general management positions of increasing responsibility at General Mills, participating in the successes of many of its leading brands from Cheerios to Betty Crocker, with his last three years at General Mills as president of Yoplait-Colombo.

When he took the ConAgra helm in late 2005, the company was besieged with underperforming brands and decentralized management. For two years, Rodkin commuted, flying in every week from his Connecticut home, because he didn’t want to uproot his daughter, a junior in high school.

Digging in his heels, Rodkin found $100 million in cost savings by closing nine manufacturing plants, decentralizing operations, replacing senior management and cutting bureaucracy. He restructuring the company’s business focus on its bestselling brands and supporting them with marketing dollars. Rolling out products every six months was also at the top of Rodkin’s list.

A year after he settled into the job, ConAgra sold its iconic Butterball brand and its turkey business to privately held Carolina Turkeys for $325 million. It also sold its Singleton seafood unit, Swissrose cheese unit, Armour, Eckrich, Cook's hams brands to Smithfield Foods, and Louis Kemp seafood brand to Trident Seafood and in the past month the Knott’s Berry Farm brand was sold to J.M. Smucker. ConAgra Trade Group, which sells and trades fertilizer, corn, wheat and energy, was also sold, for a whopping $2.1 billion.

Now ConAgra Foods is organized into three businesses: Consumer Foods (branded products to retail and foodservice), International Foods (40 global brands offered in 110 countries) and Commercial Products (which includes Food & Ingredients for foodservice and manufacturing from its Lamb Weston, Gilroy Foods & Flavors, ConAgra Mills and Spicetec divisions.

Rodkin said the company's future is in developing its stable of consumer brands, which include Act II, Banquet, Blue Bonnet, Chef Boyardee, Crunch 'n Munch, David, Egg Beaters, Fleischmann's, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Hunt's Manwich, Hunt's Snack Pack, Jiffy Pop, Kid Cuisine, La Choy, Lightlife, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, Parkay, Pemmican, Pam, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Rosarita, Slim Jim, Swiss Miss, Van Camp's, Wesson and Wolf Brand.


Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola Co.


It was a surprise to many when Neville Isdell, retired and a relative outsider, took over as chairman/CEO of Coca-Cola Co. in 2004. Observers are far less cautious about his own successor. When Muhtar Kent succeeds Isdell as CEO on July 1, analysts look for more of the same: a steady hand over a difficult business, the greatest potential for which may lie overseas.

As president/COO since 2007, Kent has been Isdell’s right-hand man. He has a strikingly similar international background. After joining Coke in 1978, he served as head of Coca-Cola’s Turkey and Central Asia business, East Central Europe Division, Coca-Cola International (with responsibility for 23 countries) and was managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil-Europe, covering bottling operations in 12 countries.

From 1999 until May 2005, he was president/CEO of the Efes Beverage Group, the majority shareholder of Turkish bottler Coca-Cola Icecek. Headquartered in Istanbul and listed on the London and Istanbul Stock Exchanges, Efes is a publicly traded beverage enterprise, and its Coca-Cola and beer operations extend from the Adriatic to the Pacific Ocean. Under Kent's leadership, Efes experienced extraordinary growth, with triple-digit revenue growth and a 250 percent increase in market capitalization.

Returning to Atlanta-based Coca-Cola in 2005, Kent was president/COO of the company's North Asia, Eurasia and Middle East Group; in 2006 those responsibilities were broadened to include key countries China, Japan and Russia. He served as president of Coca-Cola International through most of 2006, responsible for the Company's operations outside of North America before becoming corporate president/COO.

Kent holds a bachelor of science degree in economics from Hull University, England, and a master of science degree in administrative sciences from London City University.

The Atlanta-based company, which gets 78 percent of its sales abroad, is seeking more acquisition opportunities in the fast-growing soft drinks market to expand its revenue sources, the company's CEO-in-waiting said in May at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Sales of established soft drinks are declining in the U.S. as consumers opt for bottled water and tea, which are perceived as healthier. But Coke has responded with the 2007 acquisitions of Fuze enhanced juices and teas; Leao Junior, a Brazilian tea and beverage maker; Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater; and Jugos del Valle, a Latin American juice manufacturer. Coke also launched ready-to-drink iced coffees in a venture with Caribou Coffee. And earlier this year, it bought a 40 percent stake in Honest Tea.

“I'm humbled by the tremendous responsibilities that await me, and honored to be a part of this legacy of growth and sustainability that Neville has injected into our great company during the past four years,” Kent told shareholders at Coca-Cola’s annual meeting in April. “As shareowners of this great business, you have good reason to be excited about our recent performance and to be optimistic about our future.”

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