Danone board ousts Faber as chairman after activist pressure

PARIS (Reuters) – The board of French food group Danone on Sunday voted to oust Emmanuel Faber as chairman, Le Figaro newspaper reported, as the group tries to draw a line under a management crisis and growing pressure from shareholders.

FILE PHOTO: Emmanuel Faber, chief executive officer of French food group Danone, poses before a news conference to present the company’s 2017 annual results in Paris, France, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

Faber, who had recently said he would relinquish his role as CEO but stay on as chairman to try to appease critics, will be replaced by recently appointed director Gilles Schnepp in the top job, Le Figaro said.

Danone and Faber could not immediately be reached for comment.

Danone had come under pressure in recent months from several shareholders including investment fund Artisan Partners and activist investor Bluebell Capital, who called for Faber to leave and for the group to improve returns.

They had also championed Schnepp, who used to run electrical firm Legrand and was named to Danone’s board in December, as a desirable candidate as chairman.

The abrupt shake-up now leaves Danone under pressure to find a new CEO quickly.

The investors had pointed to Danone’s sluggish stock market performance and weaker sales growth than some peers over the past year, and criticised some strategy decisions and Danone’s low level of investment in areas such as marketing.

Problems at the world’s largest yoghurt-maker, which also makes Evian bottled water, were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit its sales to the restaurant sector for example.

Faber, who had been CEO since 2014 and later took on the chairman role, has advocated for environmental issues and more sustainable ways of doing business, winning him followers among some staff.

But recent management changes and an organisational overhaul had caused divisions among board members, people close to the matter have previously said.

Faber’s decision to stay on as chairman and oversee the recruitment of a new CEO had sparked fresh criticism from Artisan and Bluebell, as the funds questioned whether he would continue to exert too much influence.

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