PARIS (Reuters) – The board of French food group Danone said on Monday that Emmanuel Faber would step down as chairman and CEO, as the group tries to draw a line under a management crisis and growing pressure from shareholders.
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 immediately by recently appointed director Gilles Schnepp in the seat of non-executive chairman.
“The immediate priority of the new chairman, together with the board, will be to lead the transition, including the search for a new CEO. Danone has appointed an international search agency to support the process”, the group said in a statement.
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.
“Of course the ‘job’ starts now with the Board due to appoint a top-class CEO,” Bluebell said in a statement late on Sunday, adding it was happy with the outcome so far.
“We are confident that under the leadership of Mr Schnepp, a profitable growth trajectory will be restored at Danone whist also keeping focus on sustainability.”
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.
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