General Mills, Minneapolis, has named Jeffrey Harmening its new CEO beginning June 1. The company also elected him to its board of directors. Harmening, 50, is a 23-year veteran of the company and has served as president and chief operating officer since July 1, 2016. He succeeds Ken Powell, who has served as chairman and CEO since 2007. Powell will continue to serve as the company's chairman for a transition period until his retirement, expected within the next year.
Currently the chief operating officer, Harmening has been with the food maker for 23 years. He was widely seen as the logical successor to Powell when Powell announced his retirement. General Mills also said Harmening was elected to the company's board of directors.
Under Powell's leadership, General Mills made strides to expand its natural and organic segments, including the acquisition of Annie's and EPIC Provisions, broadened globally, developed a culture of holistic margin management and redoubled efforts to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers.
"General Mills has a long tradition of delivering top-tier returns that our shareholders have counted on for generations," Powell said. "We are focused on growth and feel strongly that Jeff is the right leader for the next leg of our journey." Harmening's time with the company and in the food industry as a whole is an asset, and he may well come into the job knowing immediately where he wants to take the company.
While president of the U.S. cereal business, Harmening led a realignment of the portfolio that resulted in multiple years of growth in sales, market share and profitability. As CEO of Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), the joint venture with Nestlé based in Switzerland that markets cereal in 130 countries, Harmening oversaw a reorganization of the company that positioned the business to deliver long-term profitable growth.
Joining General Mills in 1994, Harmening has served in a variety of roles including executive vice president, chief operating officer, U.S. Retail, vice president and senior vice president of the Big G cereal division as well as a variety of marketing roles in Betty Crocker, Yoplait, Foodservice and Big G new enterprises.
Harmening's move up comes as the company faces seven straight quarters of declining sales. Its troubles are no different than those of other food and beverage giants as consumers seek healthier and fresher alternatives, abandoning many packaged products, including cereal. The established big food companies also face challenges competing with trendy upstarts that may be more nimble launching new products that appeal to changing public tastes and trends.
"I am honored to take the helm of General Mills at such an important point in its history," said Harmening. "Building on the legacy of those that have led this great company before me is an exciting challenge and one I do not take on alone. General Mills' employees are singularly focused on driving growth and returns for the long term, and it will be a privilege to help them reach that goal."