Chairman/CEO Brenda Barnes on Leave From Sara Lee

Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., on May 14 announced Brenda Barnes, its chairman and chief executive, left the company temporarily for medical reasons. Finance chief Marcel Smits – with the company only since October 2009 -- serves as interim CEO, and lead independent director James Crown becomes acting chairman.

The company formed an office of the chairman to keep strategies and operations on track. Joining Crown and Smits in that office is Christopher John (CJ) Fraleigh, CEO of North American retail and foodservice. The group has been formed to ensure the continued effective execution of strategic initiatives and further enhance operational efficiencies. 

Veteran Mark Garvey temporarily takes over Smits' job as chief financial officer.

Barnes, 56, joined the company as CEO in 2005 and was named chairman a year later. The company did not say when she plans to resume her duties. "We wish Brenda a speedy recovery and look forward to her return," said Crown. "Out of respect for Brenda's privacy, we will not be commenting further."

A week earlier, Sara Lee reported some improvement in financials for the quarter ending March 27. Net sales for the third-quarter were $2.6 billion, unchanged versus the year-earlier period, but operating income rose to $228 million, up from $207 million in 3Q2009. Adjusted income was $257 million, or 29 cents per share, but that was wiped out by repatriation taxes and other special charges of $367 million.

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