Campbell Soup is on track to name a new chief executive by year’s end — despite job candidates’ jitters about the presence of billionaire Dan Loeb’s nominees on the company’s board, sources told The Post.
The struggling soup maker is poised to name Mark Clouse — the former boss of Pinnacle Foods, the owner of Duncan Hines and Vlasic — as its new CEO as soon as this week, sources said.
But the courtship of Clouse recently got complicated by Loeb, the activist investor whose Third Point hedge fund last month got two board seats at Campbell after threatening a proxy fight.
In response to Clouse’s concerns, the normally hard-charging Loeb in recent days spoke to the executive, taking pains to reassure him that he would give him plenty of elbow room, sources said.
Clouse is the favorite to be named CEO, although there is at least one other candidate still in the running as the company seeks a guru to turn its business around, according to insiders.
Clouse was CEO of Pinnacle until it got acquired last month by ConAgra. The 50-year-old is known as a good brand builder, says an industry expert who knows him.
“You look at Pinnacle and he got some growth out of the Birds Eye brand,” the industry expert said.
“He’ll have to figure out what to do with soup,” he added.
Clouse didn’t do a lot of cost-cutting at Pinnacle since the company was already lean when he became its CEO in May 2016, the source says.
Pinnacle’s shares when Clouse became CEO were trading in the mid-$60s range, and ConAgra bought the company two years and seven months later in a cash-and -stock deal for $68 a share.
Clouse does have experience working for powerful and sometimes controlling directors, as The Blackstone Group still had board representation at Pinnacle when he took the reins.
The new likely CEO served in the US Army as a pilot and is a grad of the US Military Academy with a degree in economics.
Clouse’s appointment would come at the end of a roughly seven-month long search for a new CEO, which commenced after Denise Morrison abruptly stepped down as CEO in May. Campbell execs said in November that they planned to name a permanent CEO by year-end.
Campbell, meanwhile, is in a challenging spot, with analysts noting that expenses should rise.
Bank of America recently said Campbell’s better-than-expected earnings in the most recent quarter were “helped by lower marketing and advertising expense primarily in meals and beverages.”
Bank of America has a Campbell price target of $31, while Campbell’s shares closed Tuesday at $38.50. Of the 18 analysts who cover Campbell, only four have a buy rating on the company, and the average price target is $38.
Campbell said, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”
Third Point declined to comment.
By Carleton English and Josh Kosman
Source: New York Post
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