- Three Hampton Creek senior managers were fired this week for their apparent involvement in a plot to take control of the company from co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick and hand it over to investors, according to a story first reported by The Guardian.
- Tetrick told The Guardian that more than one employee told him they had a feeling something might be going on. A deeper internal investigation started after Tetrick was forwarded an email from one of the senior managers to an investor requesting a private meeting to discuss future company governance. The employees who were let go include Chief Technology Officer Jim Flatt, Vice President of Research and Development Lee Chae and Vice President of Business Development Sofia Elizondo.
- The former managers were not accused of criminal wrongdoing, but a company statement said their conduct amounted to "another unsuccessful attempt to derail our mission." The reason for their termination was their plans "to change our company’s corporate governance, which in the process, would have stripped our employees of the autonomy to direct our long-term mission." Tetrick told The Guardian that giving new investors more say could pressure Hampton Creek to accept buyout offers or launch new products that don't fit with company ideals.
Since its vegan Just-branded products hit store shelves, Hampton Creek has attracted — and successfully deflected — criticism. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture's findings that the company was inappropriately targeted by the American Egg Board's ads in online searches to inquiries into a company buyback program by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Department that ultimately found no wrongdoing, the promising food startup has endured intense scrutiny from numerous sources. This latest report seems to be the first publicized example of a major conflict coming from within the company.
Through everything, the company that made its name with eggless mayonnaise that has seen great success. Its worth is estimated at $1 billion, and according to CB Insights, it has disclosed fundraising of $240 million — far more than any other food or beverage startup in the marketplace today. The company's products are sold at stores worldwide.
Officials said in a statement emailed to Food Dive that the company's current corporate governance structure is critical to its mission. Plans for future expansion depend on it staying intact.
"Every decision — from who we hire to what we invest in to what partnerships we sign to what business lines we pursue — is driven by whether we believe it will increase the probability of achieving our mission in our lifetimes," the statement says. "That’s how we operate now and how we will operate in the future. it’s the foundation of how we view corporate governance.
"Corporate governance, like oxygen or voting rights, is the type of thing many people take for granted unless it’s gone. That’s why preserving the structure we have in place and the autonomy for our team that comes with it is so critical to our long-term mission and is key to our rapid growth and expansion. Our founder and CEO Josh is only one element of corporate governance. This structure would remain in place whether he is leading the company or not."
Hampton Creek has made internal changes recently. Last month, the company's chief financial officer, chief operating officer and human resources chief lost their jobs while the company's vice president of business affairs announced his resignation. And a rebranding campaign headlined by a new website that focuses on solving world hunger problems through plant proteins and food science sets the stage for Hampton Creek to be more than just a condiment and cookie company.
The industry will be watching closely to see what the company has in store for the future, as well as the kinds of leaders that will be chosen to fill its the holes in its executive ranks.