Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison tendered an immediate and surprise resignation on Friday after leading the company for seven years on a quest to be seen as a marketer of healthier products in tune with changing consumer tastes. The Camden, N.J.-based company also reported disappointing third-quarter results for fiscal 2018, including the continuing below-expectations performance of its Campbell Fresh segment.
The two developments are clearly related, although neither Morrison nor the company offered a reason for her departure. Board chairman Les C. Vinney says in a statement that Morrison’s leadership of the company has “helped to enhance the long-term growth potential of Campbell.” He then thanks her and wishes her “the best” in her retirement.
Morrison’s retirement at age 64 “comes amid a period of expansion for Campbell, which recently acquired the Snyder's-Lance snack company and the Bolthouse Farms juice maker,” USA Today’s Nathan Bomey points out.
“Replacing Morrison on an interim basis will be Keith R. McLoughlin, 61, a member of Campbell’s board of directors since 2016. McLoughlin was president and CEO of Electrolux AB, a global manufacturer of major household appliances from 2011 through early 2016,” writes the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Harold Brubaker.
“McLoughlin told analysts during a conference call on yet another disappointing quarterly earnings report that board and management would undertake over the next few months a complete review of Campbell’s businesses, which run from fresh carrots grown in California to chocolate-draped Tim Tam cookies that are popular in Australia.”
“Everything is on the table. There are no sacred cows. We expect this process to take a few months, and we intend to share the progress of this review with you during our fourth quarter call at the end of August,” McLoughlin said on the call, which was transcribed by Seeking Alpha.
“The company needs a new plan, analysts and industry executives say,” writes Annie Gasparro for the Wall Street Journal. “Campbell could stay the course and try to build on the fresh-food business Ms. Morrison assembled over the past six years. Or it could spin off the fresh business and sell off older brands like V8 juice and SpaghettiOs, to focus on reviving its core soup business. It could also merge with a bigger food company to help it cut costs and widen its reach.”
Not that it has been sitting still.
“Early last month the company announced the Campbell Fresh business would be put within a new accelerator unit focused on driving long-term growth, and headed by Ana Dominguez. Dominguez, who was previously president of Campbell Canada, is expected to continue in the new position,” a source tells Reuters’ Nivedita Balu, Siddharth Cavale and Harry Brumpton.
“In April, the company also elevated Luca Mignini, the head of the unit that makes Goldfish Crackers and Pepperidge Farm cookies, to chief operating officer, underscoring its shifting emphasis from soups to snacks — and potentially putting him in line for the top job,” they continue.
The odds favor males candidates for sure.
“There are now just 23 female chief executives running publicly traded companies on the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. That is 4.6% of the total, a figure that edged above 5% for the first time last year,” Tiffany Hsu, Claire Cain Miller and David Gelles write for the New York Times.
“When there are so few women in these positions, every single departure is notable and depressing. Yet there does seem to be something larger at work here. We’re slipping back,” Brande Stellings, SVP of advisory services at Catalyst, tells them.
“Research has found that while female executives are much less likely than male executives to become the ultimate boss, they are more likely than men to do so if they stay on the management path for many years. Yet women are pushed out or leave at every stage along the way. At companies in the S.&P. 500, 45% of employees are women, but just 37% of midlevel managers and 27% of senior managers are women, according to Catalyst,” Hsu, Cain Miller and Gelles report.
Just last week, the Boston-based Reputation Institute named Morrison as one of two “honorables mentions” in its ranking of the 10 top business leaders worldwide. Google’s Sundar Pichai is cited as No. 1 in the “first ever CEO RepTrak study.”
In a release announcing the results, the Reputation Institute’s Chief Reputation Officer, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, says: “The rubric for what it takes to be a great leader is quickly shifting. Assessing a CEO’s performance based solely on financial returns is no longer enough.”
Perhaps. But it apparently still counts an awful lot.