Boyden Executive Search

As Campbell Soup Co.’s board narrows down CEO candidates, Chief Operating Officer Luca Mignini seems the likeliest internal pick.

The board said it will review a slate of external CEO candidates at its next meeting in late September as the executive search process progresses. Board member Keith McLoughlin, who has served as Interim CEO since Denise Morrison left in May, said he is not interested in filling the role permanently. This has added to Campbell’s challenge of finding a CEO capable of leading its turnaround. Morrison’s departure followed several years of lacklustre earnings. Campbell’s namesake canned soup and other packaged foods have struggled as consumers opt for fresh food.

The apparent frontrunner from inside the company, Luca Mignini, joined Campbell five years ago as President of Campbell International. He was promoted to COO in April, giving him leadership of the snack and meal businesses, in addition to U.S. sales and global development, according to Reuters.

Amidst trying to recruit a new CEO, Campbell has been battling activist investor Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund, Third Point, which until recently was pushing for a takeover. On September 7, Third Point presented 12 nominees to replace Campbell’s entire board. The contention over the board complicates the CEO search, since board members involved in the decision could be replaced. This may deter some top executives in the consumer industry from applying.

Loeb has been highly critical of Campbell’s lack of a CEO succession plan, and to his point, sources say the board has only recently taken formal steps to widen its CEO search outside the company. One external CEO candidate the board is expected to consider, however, is industry veteran Mark Clouse, Chief Executive of Pinnacle Foods. In June Pinnacle agreed to sell itself to ConAgra Brands, which could displace him.

Should Third Point, which manages $18 billion in assets, manage to wield a heavy hand in the CEO appointment, it would not be the first time. The firm has played a role in bringing new CEOs to several companies, including Jose Almeida to Baxter International, Tad Smith to Sotheby’s, and Marissa Mayer to Yahoo.

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