Danone's Faber to relinquish CEO role after investor pressure

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Danone SA said on Monday its board has voted to separate the chairman and chief executive roles held by Emmanuel Faber, and launch the search for a new CEO following calls from several shareholders to shake up governance.

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

Faber will remain in the dual position until a new CEO is found and then become nonexecutive chairman.

The world’s biggest yoghurt maker is trying to draw a line under growing pressure from investors over the firm’s share price and strategy, which had led to unease at the board level too, people familiar with the group have said.

Faber was the person who put forward to the board the proposals to separate the CEO and chairman roles and to start the search for a new CEO, according to a statement from the company.

Now in his seventh year as chief executive, Faber has pursued a strategy centred on diversifying into fast-growing products featuring probiotics, protein and plant-based ingredients to mitigate slower growth in dairy.

In recent months and with speculation around an incursion by activist investors growing, Faber announced a plan to cut 2,000 jobs, trim product ranges and sell some assets, including the group’s business in Argentina and the Vega plant-based brand.

But U.S. investor Artisan Partners Asset Managers Inc, now Danone’s third-largest shareholder, recently joined activist BlueBell Capital Partners in urging the firm to find a new CEO and speed up efforts to boost returns.

The board on Monday pledged its support for Faber to continue at the helm in the meantime, but said it fully supported a “local first” overhaul he had championed to give business units around the world more autonomy, a move that had previously divided some executives.

Decisions at the board meeting on Monday evening were all unanimous, the company said.

The CEO search could go quickly, a source familiar with the discussions said, and up to eight names of potential candidates were already circulating among board members.

“It’s not something for 2022,” the person said.

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