Hershey Says Bilbrey to Retire, Starts Search for New CEO



Chocolate company Hershey Co. has announced that Chief Executive John Bilbrey will step down from his position next summer and search for a replacement has already commenced.

Hershey revealed on Friday that Bilbrey will retire as its chief executive on July 1, 2017, but will continue as a non-executive chairman. It also said a committee has been set up to begin the search for a successor immediately.

Explaining his decision to retire Friday, Bilbrey said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

“All of the decisions in my career have been made in consultation with my wife, Teresa, with the impact to our children and our family being paramount,” the 60-year-old said in a note to the chocolate maker’s employees. “And so it is with that in mind that I have shared with our board, and now you, my decision to retire next year in order to spend more time with family and wonderful grandchildren who have faithfully and selflessly supported me for so long.”

Bilbrey, who is also Hershey’s president, became the CEO of the company in 2011, having served in different senior positions since 2003. He was named the chairman of the Kisses chocolate maker last year.

Since becoming the chief executive, Bilbrey has managed to double the market value of Hershey to $20 billion. He expanded the company’s share of the U.S. market to 31.3 percent, up from 28.3 percent, and improved profit margins.

The news of Hershey CEO’s impending retirement comes weeks after a takeover bid by Mondelez was turned down by the chocolate maker. The Oreo cookie maker’s CEO Irene Rosenfeld made a fresh bid in August after having one turned down earlier in June, but the offer was again rejected.

Reuters reported that Hershey rebuffed Rosenfeld’s offer of $115 billion per share, or approximately $24.5 billion in total. A source revealed at the time that the company wanted at least $125 a share to enter into any deal negotiations.

A takeover deal would require the approval of the Hershey trust, which controls 81 percent of the chocolate company’s voting stock. The charitable trust has around two-thirds of its $12 billion worth of assets in Hershey.

The committee set up to find a successor for Bilbrey will be headed by Pamela Arway, chairperson of the governance committee of Hershey’s board. She will be assisted by global executive search firm Egon Zehnder.

Both internal and external candidates will be considered for the chief executive position. People who are familiar with the matter said the chocolate maker’s Chief Operating Officer Michele Buck is one of those in the race.

The new CEO, among other things, will need to determine whether the Hershey trust, which was established by the company’s founder to manage school for underprivileged children, should continue to have a large chunk of its funds in the Reese’s peanut butter cups maker.

Less than three months ago, the Hershey trust agreed to a major reform following a disagreement with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. It increased the number of its board members to 13 in July, up from 10.

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