- General Mills is reportedly preparing current president and COO Jeff Harmening as the company’s next CEO, sources familiar with key decision making at the company told The Wall Street Journal.
- While Harmening didn’t elaborate, current CEO Ken Powell told WSJ in an interview that Harmening’s promotion to president and COO last month was movement in the direction of the CEO position.
- Harmening’s career journey at General Mills has been similar to that of Powell’s, having overseen operations in Europe for several years as president of General Mills’ joint cereal venture with Nestle, before serving at General Mills’ Minneapolis headquarters.
When Harmening might be ready to take the top job, or when Powell might be ready to give it up, is unclear. In response to whether he would retire soon, Powell said to WSJ, "Hell, no… There is no required retirement age at General Mills." But it’s difficult to argue that any leadership switch will be integral to the ongoing shifts General Mills is making to its portfolio and operations.
Harmening has already overseen General Mills’ acquisition of natural and organic food maker Annie’s, the company’s divestment of its Green Giant brand and the removal of artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Most recently, he's begun overseeing the overhaul of the company’s yogurt portfolio to expand in areas like new flavors, organic options, related subcategories like yogurt-based smoothies or brand extensions like Go Big for tweens who have outgrown the Go Gurt brand.
In the company’s latest earnings report, General Mills reported a 6% decrease in net sales for fiscal 2016 alongside plans to focus growth investments on brands and segments with the "strongest profitable growth potential" for the next two fiscal years. Harmening would be well equipped to oversee these investments, which include cereal, snack bars, the natural and organic portfolio, Totino’s hot snacks, Old El Paso Mexican products and yogurt.
Besides growth, General Mills has also recently announced a massive overhaul of its plant structure, including selling or closing five plants in the U.S., Brazil and China, which could lead to the loss of about 1,400 jobs. The consolidation is nothing new, as General Mills for years has pursued cost-cutting plans in the form of Project Century, Project Catalyst and Project Compass to maintain profitability as sales dipped. Harmening proved his ability to make similar tough decisions while in Europe, according to WSJ, so he also seems primed for this aspect of preparing for General Mills’ future.