Kraft Foods Group Inc. announced Dec. 18 that its chairman, John Cahill, will take over as CEO on Dec. 27 as current CEO Tony Vernon suddenly retires.
Sudden, at least, was the consensus of the financial media, who seemed unaware the 59-year-old CEO, who has shepherded Kraft since the October 2012 split from Mondelez, was planning to go fishing. Dec. 27, by the way, is the last day of the company’s fiscal year. Vernon will stay on as a senior advisor through March 31, 2015 and as a director until the company’s next annual meeting in 2015.
While the board lauded Vernon for this leadership the past two years, "The board and Tony agree that we need to accelerate the pace of change,” wrote Mackey McDonald, lead independent director.
Before the split with Mondelez, in which then-Kraft Chairman and CEO Irene Rosenfeld went with the newly created company, Vernon was corporate executive vice president and president of Kraft Foods North America. After the split, Kraft was left with solid but slower-growth center-of-the-store staples and mostly in slower-growth North America.
“It has been a privilege to lead Kraft and establish it as an independent company," Vernon said. "It has been rewarding to see the team’s many ideas bear fruit in the marketplace as together we launched an $18 billion start-up with the soul of a powerhouse. As I’ve said before, the hallmark of every great company is that it makes the right adjustments at the right time. I’ve worked in close partnership with John Cahill, an outstanding executive in the consumer industry, and have no doubt that the Kraft team will benefit from his strong leadership in the months and years to come."
"I believe now is the right time to step back and devote time to the one thing I love more than our brands — my family," he continued. "I leave knowing that we are on the right path with a strong leader in place ready to hit the ground running.”
Cahill added: “While our immediate priority will be to remain focused on delivering results, we will also take a fresh look at the business to prioritize our investments and focus on sustainable profit growth. I look forward to working with our talented team at Kraft on these efforts as we build upon the accomplishments over the last two years. We will have more to say about that in early 2015."
Cahill, who will remain chairman, joined Kraft on Jan. 2, 2012, as executive chairman designate-North American Grocery and became executive chairman at spin-off. He transitioned to a non-executive chairman role on March 8, 2014. He spent nine years with Pepsi Bottling Group, most recently as chairman and CEO from 2003-2006 and as executive chairman until 2007. He spent the prior nine years at PepsiCo Inc. in a variety of leadership positions.
He also is lead independent director of American Airlines Group and a director of Colgate-Palmolive Co. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA from Harvard University.