In our April cover article, Big Food's Focus Is Now on Growth, we speak to the rapid changing of the guard that seems to be happening at the top food and beverage companies in the U.S.
So let the changes begin! Some of the change-agents are profiled below. It will be interesting to see how long they stick around and what changes they can effect on their companies.
Tom Hayes, 52, Tyson Foods
His elevation to CEO on Jan. 1, 2017, was one of the more sudden executive changes and reflects Tyson’s long held desire to be a branded food marketer, not just a slaughterhouse. Hayes was acquired along with Hillshire Brands Co. in 2014, where he had been chief supply chain officer, the same role he had at predecessor Sara Lee. Tyson’s been living a charmed life with protein demand soaring, but what if that stops?
“Probably our biggest thing is we want to actively disrupt ourselves, challenge our business as it is today,” he said in our interview. He’d rather have Tyson do it than have an outside company do it. “That’s why we created Tyson Ventures, to find things that could be disruptive to ourselves.” (Tyson Ventures has invested in vegetarian meat replacement companies, including Memphis Meats, which is developing “cultured meat.”) “At Tyson, we’re in the middle of a transformation from a chicken company to a broader food company. To do that, we must have agility.”
Steve Oakland, 56, TreeHouse Foods
No sooner had J.M. Smucker announced his expected retirement than the 35-year Smucker veteran popped up at TreeHouse, where he will be only the second CEO in the latter company's history. He started March 26. Co-founder and chairman Sam Reed has held that title since TreeHouse's creation in 2005 At Smucker, Oakland was vice chairman and president of U.S. Food and Beverage. Despite paying a fire sale price, TreeHouse may have bitten off more than it can chew when it acquired Conagra’s private label business. It doubled TreeHouse’s sales but pushed profits into the red.
James Quincey, 52, Coca-Cola Co.
After several stormy years, Coca-Cola Co. replaced CEO Muhtar Kent with COO James Quincey, effective May 1, 2017. Kent remains chairman. A 20-year Coca-Cola veteran, Quincey was being groomed for CEO since being appointed president and COO in August 2015, observers say. Quincey’s a safe bet to protect one of the world’s great brands while gradually righting a likely smaller ship.
Dirk van de Put, 57, Mondelez International
Mondelez is largely Irene Rosenfeld's creation and vision, since she carved the global snack company out of Kraft Foods in 2012. Six years later, the company is $10 billion smaller, just as profitable but facing a more uncertain world. Van de Put left the president/CEO job at McCain Foods to replace her as CEO last November. He also replaced her as chairman this March. Can he hasten the new product development pace?
Michele Buck, 56, Hershey Co.
She tarted her career at Frito-Lay, then spent 17 years at Kraft/General Foods/Nabisco before joining Hershey in 2005 as global chief marketing officer. Buck won a series of promotions until becoming president/CEO in March 2017. She’ll have to steer the company through its annual dilemma of acquiring or being acquired.
Jeff Harmening, 51, General Mills
Harmening joined General Mills in 1994 and led businesses in the U.S. and Europe. He was named CEO on June 1, 2017, and became chairman of the board Jan. 1 of this year, in both cases succeeding Ken Powell. He’s been an architect of the company’s rebuilding already, pushing organics and ecommerce.
Steve Cahillane, 52, Kellogg Co.
Although he immediately came from vitamin company Nature’s Bounty, where he was president/CEO for just over two years, Cahillane spent seven years at Coca-Cola Co., the last as president of Coca-Cola Americas, and earlier worked eight years with AB InBev, mostly InBev, in various senior leadership roles. He became Kellogg CEO last October and added the chairman job this March 15. Can he/should he minimize the cereal business?