West Leaves Hershey to Become Del Monte CEO

In a surprise announcement May 18, David West said he’s leaving Hershey Co., where he is president/CEO, to become CEO of the newly privatized Del Monte Foods Co., effective Aug. 15. He also will be named to Del Monte’s board of directors in June.

John (J.P.) Bilbrey, Hershey’s executive vice president and COO, was named interim replacement. The Hershey board said it “will work quickly to name a permanent chief executive officer.”

At Del Monte, West replaces Neil Harrison, who was named interim CEO in March when the then-public San Francisco company was acquired by an investor group led by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Vestar Capital Partners and Centerview Capital. Harrison will remain on the board of directors.

West has spent nearly 25 years in the food industry and has been Hershey’s CEO since 2007. Prior to his CEO role, he held various leadership positions at Hershey including COO, chief financial officer, chief customer officer and senior vice president of strategy and business development. Earlier in his career, he was an SVP and CFO at Nabisco Biscuit and Snacks Group.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, West “is departing for a considerably smaller and arguably less glamorous company but one that could provide a bigger payday down the road. If and when the owners decide to sell the company, Mr. West, who is getting an equity-linked pay package, would stand to benefit.”

During West’s tenure as CEO, “Hershey accelerated top- and bottom-line growth by increasing its investment in its U.S. and international operations, improving the effectiveness of its supply chain and business model and accelerating its advertising, brand building and distribution programs” – and that glowing praise came from Del Monte, not from the chocolate company. “Hershey reported strong profits and net sales growth in 2010 and, since year-end 2007, total shareholder returns, including dividends, have exceeded 60 percent.”

“We’re thrilled that an executive of Dave’s caliber will be leading Del Monte in the next phase of its development and growth,” said Del Monte board members Simon Brown of KKR, Brian Ratzan of Vestar and David Hooper of Centerview, in a company statement. “Dave brings with him an outstanding track record of brand building and investment for growth and we are confident he has the leadership credentials and experience to move the company forward.”

“I have admired Del Monte’s transformation into a multi-billion [dollar] diversified branded pet and consumer products company,’ said West. Pet food brands include Meow Mix, Kibbles 'n Bits, Milk-Bone, 9Lives, Pup-Peroni, Gravy Train, Nature's Recipe, Canine Carry-Outs and others. Food brands include Del Monte, Contadina, S&W, College Inn, among others. Plus, the company has a private label business.

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