Hershey promotes interim CEO to top job

AP News
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 6:54 PM
Hershey promotes interim CEO to top job

The Hershey Co. said Wednesday that it is removing "interim" from the title of its president and CEO, John P. Bilbrey, who will take the reins of the candy maker after an enormously successful run under David J. West.

The chocolate-making icon said its board unanimously agreed to appoint Bilbrey on a permanent basis. Bilbrey, who joined Hershey in 2003, had been serving as chief operating officer when he was named interim president and CEO on May 18, after West announced plans to leave Hershey following more than three years in the top job. West left to become CEO of Del Monte Foods Co.

"J.P. has the experience, deep industry knowledge and the right skills to lead Hershey's growth as it continues to evolve into a global company," said Chairman James E. Nevels.

Hershey announced Bilbrey's appointment after its shares fell 40 cents to close at $54.72. In aftermarket trading following the announcement, the stock lost another 22 cents.

Bilbrey will take over a company that is under pressure to grow, both in North America and in developing economies such as China, Brazil and India, while two of Hershey's competitors, Mars Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc., have expanded their international footprints through acquisitions.

Bilbrey, 54, who became COO in November, served Hershey first as president of Hershey International. Before joining Hershey, he worked at Mission Foods, Group Danone's North American water business and Procter & Gamble.

Hershey's shares also dropped on the day when West's departure became public, and analysts said it appeared that West had surprised the company with his decision to leave.

West was promoted to Hershey's top job in 2007 after two years of skidding sales at the Hershey, Pa.-based company. Under West, Hershey's sales grew from $5.13 billion in 2008 to $5.67 billion in 2010.

West pumped huge sums of money into advertising while shifting the company's focus back to its core products, such as Hershey's Kisses and Reese's, and away from seasonal spinoffs. Hershey reported rising profits in 11 of its past 12 quarters.

Analysts said consumers traded down from expensive, gourmet chocolate to Hershey's cheaper mainstream treats and credited West with controlling costs _ he even set in motion plans to transform the original, but unwieldy, chocolate factory built by founder Milton Hershey into just administrative offices.