Shakeups, Pressure Continue at ConAgra

Aug. 31, 2015
Executives shuffled, investors force two reps on the board of directors.

ConAgra Foods continues to churn. Just four months into the tenure of its new CEO, two key architects of the company's former strategy have left, with both their jobs given to one replacement, and a large investment fund forced two directors onto the ConAgra board of directors.

Chief Marketing Office Joan Chow and Al Bolles, an executive vice president and chief technical officer (top guy in research and development), left the company in early August. By the end of that month, ConAgra said it's combining marketing and R&D into a new division called the Growth Center of Excellence.

Leading it will be Darren Serrao, chief growth officer, who was chief marketing and commercial officer at Campbell Soup. The Omaha World Herald noted Serrao’s time at Campbell overlapped with that of Sean Connolly, ConAgra's new CEO, who worked at Campbell in various leadership roles from 2002 to 2012.

Meanwhile, ConAgra officials said they learned in June that investment firm Jana Partners LLC had acquired approximately 7 percent of the company's stock. After a month or so of discussions with the financial firm, ConAgra agreed to expand its board of directors and appoint two Jana nominees, both with substantial food backgrounds.

Bradley Alford retired in late 2012 as chairman and CEO of Nestle USA. He held several positions with Nestle over a 35-year career. Timothy McLevish most recently was CFO and an executive vice president at Walgreens Boots Alliance, but from 2007-2014, he was with Kraft Foods Group, ultimately as an EVP and CFO.

“We are pleased to welcome Brad and Tim to the ConAgra Foods board,” said Chairman Steven Goldstone. “Both are seasoned, accomplished veterans of our industry, and we look forward to benefiting from their expertise as we uphold our ongoing commitment to deliver value for all shareholders.”

Connolly added, “We are committed to transforming ConAgra Foods into a focused, higher-margin, more contemporary and higher-performing company. I look forward to working with Brad, Tim and the rest of the ConAgra Foods board as we execute our plan for delivering shareholder value.”

As a result, Jana Partners agreed to "customary standstill and voting commitments. A copy of the cooperation agreement will be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission."

A financial news report said Jana holds 11.5 million shares, worth more than half a billion dollars, and 19 million call options, worth about $832 million. Jana's stake is only surpassed by the Vanguard Group, with 34.5 million shares, representing more than 8 percent of the total outstanding stock.

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