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New ConAgra CEO aims to revamp ailing giant

By Anthony Fletcher , 07-Sep-2005

ConAgra Food's appointment of Gary Rodkin, formerly in charge of PepsiCo Beverages and Foods North America, comes at a critical time for the company.

Rodkin, who will succeed Bruce Rohde as president and CEO at the beginning of October, will preside over a company that has seen rapid growth, but is currently experiencing staff cuts and a decline in profits.

He knows that there is work to be done.

"We're clearly going to take a look at our portfolio and see which things we should really get behind," he said at a recent press conference.

"There will clearly be an emphasis on cost, and there'll clearly be an emphasis on growing the top line. I'm very confident that, if you're a little patient, you're going to see some significant progress."

The company is also confident that they have found the right man to steer the company back towards stability.

"Gary Rodkin is an accomplished leader with world-class general management skills who has consistently driven strong business results throughout his career," said board member Steven Goldstone, who led the board's search committee for a new chief executive.

"He's built leading brands and winning teams at General Mills, Tropicana and PepsiCo. His leadership, consumer marketing skills and more than 25 years of packaged foods experience make him uniquely qualified to lead ConAgra Foods into an era of improved performance and profitable growth."

Within the last decade, ConAgra has been transformed from 90 independent operating companies into three focused business segments serving customers in retail, foodservices and ingredients.

The company divested commodity-based businesses, including fresh beef, pork and chicken, canned seafood, cheese and agricultural inputs to concentrate instead on marketing, operational efficiency and business consolidation with the aim of improving customer service and increasing margins.

However in March this year, the company announced that its third-quarter operating profit fell 12.6 percent to $396 million compared with the year before. It blamed the weak results on refrigerated branded meats, food production problems and inefficiencies in technology consolidation.

The company is now in the process of eliminating several hundred salaried jobs across the organization.

Rodkin however firmly believes that the future looks good.

"A lot has been accomplished in recent years to shape the company's portfolio and strengthen its business model," said Rodkin. "With that foundation, we will focus on sustainable profit growth through well-defined strategic focus and operational excellence.

"I would not have chosen to come here if I didn't believe that that opportunity was in front of us."

Rodkin led a $10 billion organization during his time at PepsiCo and was responsible for such brands as Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker Foods and Tropicana. From 1979 to 1995, he held marketing and general management positions at General Mills, participating in the successes of many brands such as Cheerios and Yoplait-Colombo.

"Ultimately, companies grow and gain competitive advantage by building brands that are relevant to and valued by consumers, and by leveraging one's capabilities to the benefit of customers," he said.

Rodkin's selection is the culmination of a formal search process launched by Rohde's announcement earlier this year of his plans to seek a successor.

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