Danone Chairman Riboud to Yield Post as CEO Faber Adds Role
(Bloomberg) -- Danone Chairman Franck Riboud, whose father founded the world’s largest yogurt maker, is stepping down from his role more than a year before his term was to expire.
Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Faber will add the role of chairman on Dec. 1, the Paris-based maker of Evian water and Activia yogurt said in a statement Wednesday. The 61-year-old Riboud will then become honorary chairman and will remain a director.
Combining the chairman and CEO roles will create “a direct bridge between the board and management that will enable the company to continue to execute on its strategy,” Riboud said in the statement.
Riboud’s early departure is a positive catalyst for shareholders as it reduces the risk of political interference in any potential future activist campaign or takeover scenarios, analysts at United First Partners said in a note. The French government passed a law protecting what it termed “strategic industries” from takeover by foreign companies in response to speculation in 2005 that PepsiCo Inc. was preparing to bid for Danone. The analysts said Riboud’s political connections helped to derail that approach.
“We view the departure of Franck Riboud as a key milestone for the future of Danone,” analysts including Marko Lazic wrote. “With Riboud stepping down as chairman of Danone, Danone’s management is under more pressure to deliver on their plan.”
The company also created a new, five-member executive committee with Francisco Camacho, currently head of the water business, serving as executive vice president for the essential dairy and plant-based business.
Riboud has spent 36 years at Danone. He held several posts, including general manager of Evian, before succeeding his father, Antoine Riboud, as CEO in 1996. During Franck Riboud’s 18 years at the helm, Danone’s shares nearly tripled as he led the company into new markets around the world, defying volatile emerging economies and going up against global food giants like Nestle SA and Coca-Cola Co.
Riboud also streamlined the company’s portfolio, which included beer, cheese and meat as well as a glass-containers business. He navigated Danone through major deals, such as selling the cookies-and-crackers business to Kraft Foods Inc. to focus on health and nutrition.
The 12.3 billion-euro ($14.5 billion) acquisition of Royal Numico NV in 2007 made the company one of the world leaders in the baby-food and medical-nutrition markets. With sales of yogurt and other dairy products slowing in key markets, Danone has continued its transformation under Faber with this year’s $10 billion deal for soy milk producer WhiteWave.
Riboud, who handed the CEO job to Faber and became chairman in 2014, had been slated to end his term as chairman at the annual meeting in 2019.