TreeHouse Foods Inc. will have only its second CEO on March 26, when Steven Oakland joins as CEO and president. At the end of January, J.M. Smucker Co. had just announced the June 29 expected "retirement" of Oakland, who is just 56. At TreeHouse, Oakland succeeds Sam Reed, who will remain chairman but only until his retirement on July 1.
Reed, 70, has headed TreeHouse since its founding in 2005, most of the time as chairman and CEO. The company in mid-2016 promoted Christopher Sliva to president and chief operating officer, and he looked to be heir-apparent as CEO. But he quit after only three months in the new job to become CEO of AdvancePierre Foods.
In mid-2017, Robert Aiken Jr. was named president and COO, but he resigned after just four months. In announcing the search for his replacement, TreeHouse first mentioned it was looking for a CEO, not just a COO.
Reed created TreeHouse Foods in 2005, four years after he engineered the sale of Keebler, where he was CEO, to Kellogg. He and a handful of former Keebler executives went looking for another venture, and they decided private label food was the Next Big Thing. So they bought a handful of non-dairy, primarily private label businesses (pickles, dips and dressings) that were being spun off from Dean Foods, then bought other private label manufacturers. TreeHouse's annual sales now are $6.3 billion.
The biggest buy was Conagra's private label business in late 2015, which doubled TreeHouse's size. Conagra, which had a substantial private label business of its own, bought Ralcorp's private label business in late 2012 for $6.8 billion, then sold it all to TreeHouse three years later for $2.7 billion. Even at that bargain price, TreeHouse has had difficulty turning a profit on those acquired lines.
Oakland had a 35-year career at Smucker, where most recently was vice chair and president of U.S. Food and Beverage. "Steve brings to TreeHouse a wealth of experience moving quickly to assimilate and integrate complex businesses, designing highly effective organizations and improving the growth and profitability of acquired companies," said Dennis O'Brien, lead independent director of TreeHouse's board of directors. "He has been central to transforming the Smucker Co. from a fruit spreads company to a best in class Fortune 500 marketer and manufacturer spanning multiple consumer packaged goods categories."
"No company is better positioned than TreeHouse to capitalize on the growing importance of private label in today's dynamic retail landscape, which is a credit to Sam Reed and his vision," said Oakland. "The initiatives that Sam and the team have put in place are the right ones."
"I fully support the board's appointment of Steve and am pleased to hand over the reins to him," added Reed. "I'm delighted that we have attracted someone with a deep understanding of food and beverage and private label across all channels of distribution and classes of trade."
Upon his retirement as non-executive chairman, Reed will continue to serve in a non-executive advisory capacity to Oakland through the end of the year.