Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld to Step Down

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

Aug 02, 2017

Mondelez International CEO and chairman Irene Rosenfeld will step down as chief executive in November, the Deerfield, Ill.-based global snacking giant announced today (Aug, 2). Rosenfeld, 64, will remain the company's chairman of the board until March 2018, when she’ll be succeeded by Dirk Van de Put, currently the president and CEO of McCain Foods. Van de Put will also join the board of directors.

The transition will become effective in November. Rosenfeld told Fortune that she made the board aware of her desired timeline for retirement a number of years ago. "I care deeply about the company," she said, "and I wasn’t ready to retire until we found the right successor." She noted that the search was a multi-year process that considered both internal and external candidates.

"I am very proud of what our 90,000 colleagues at Mondelēz International have accomplished," she continued. "Throughout my tenure as CEO, the world and our industry have undergone a period of unprecedented change. During that time, we anticipated emerging challenges, adapted accordingly and created significant value for our shareholders. The outlook is bright for this great company — one of the few that has consistently delivered on both the top and bottom lines, while making critical investments for future growth."

Van de Put brings nearly 30 years of experience in the food and consumer package industry to this new leadership role. He helped privately-held McCain Foods become a $9.1-billion Canadian company that leads the market in manufacturing frozen french fries, potato specialties and appetizers, with sales in more than 160 countries. During his six-year tenure there as CEO, he grew net sales by more than 50 percent, generating more than 75 percent of that growth organically.

Rosenfeld is a 35-year industry stalwart who took large and transformative bets over the course of her career. After becoming CEO of Kraft in 2006, she acquired Cadbury for nearly $20 billion in 2010 and subsequently split Kraft into two to create Mondelez. She then opted to run Mondelez, Kraft’s one-time global snacking business, which was the smaller of the two.

Rosenfeld departs amid turbulence in the food world. At a conference in February, she called it "one of the of most volatile and uncertain that I’ve seen in my 35 years in the industry."Today, some 85 percent of Mondelez's $26 billion in revenue comes from snacking and about 40 percent is generated from emerging markets. Rosenfeld attempted another big play last summer with a bid for Hershey that ultimately failed.

“I had the courage to make some bold moves that weren’t the easy route but were the right route,” she told Fortune.

Rosenfeld called her successor, Van de Put, an "ambidextrous leader," who before joining McCain Foods held executive positions with Novartis, Danone, Mars, and Coca-Cola. She said the board had been impressed with Van de Put's ability to grow both the top and bottom line, particularly in categories that were a little bit more challenged. "The board and I are confident that Dirk Van de Put is the right leader to take us forward," she stated in a company press release. "He is a seasoned global CEO, having lived and worked on three different continents, with deep experience and expertise in all critical business and commercial operations in both emerging and developed markets. Throughout his career, Dirk has had a proven track record of driving top-line and category growth, while at the same time improving cost structures and profitability. And he has achieved these results with a values-based leadership style and steadfast focus on people."

Rosenfeld has contended with activist investors, commodity and currency swings, and geopolitical turmoil. Along with other Big Food companies, Mondelez is facing what Rosenfeld called a "broad slowdown" across all food and beverage categories in North America in part caused by a consumer migration to smaller health-focused brands.

The retail landscape has also evolved significantly with the expansion of convenience stores, discounters like Lidl and Aldi entering the U.S., and the explosion of e-commerce. Rosenfeld said Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods will have an impact on the sector but that its speed and magnitude has probably been overstated. "It’s a testament to the fact that consumers are shopping in a variety of channels," she said.

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