Hershey CEO West leaves for Del Monte

Wed May 18, 2011 11:08am EDT
 

By Brad Dorfman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Hershey Co Chief Executive David West is leaving chocolate bars for Del Monte canned vegetables and cat food, the second unexpected CEO departure at Hershey in less than four years.

West will take the top job at Del Monte Foods Inc, the maker of Meow Mix cat food and Del Monte canned vegetables that was taken private by a group led by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co earlier this year, Del Monte confirmed on Wednesday.

West, 48, was hastily named CEO at Hershey in October 2007 after Richard Lenny unexpectedly said he was leaving, reportedly because had disagreements with the Hershey Trust, the charitable trust that owns a controlling stake in the company.

West also could have wanted to get away from the control that the trust has over Hershey, said Morningstar analyst Erin Lash.

"He probably will have more freedom or flexibility to steer the strategic direction of the firm (Del Monte), more so than he did at Hershey," she said.

West's appointment is affective August 15, Del Monte said in a statement.

West has been credited with cutting costs and spurring new product development that has improved profits at Hershey.

Hershey shares were down more than 3 percent at $55.16 on Wednesday. They are up more than 17 percent since January, 2010 when the company failed to counter Kraft Foods Inc's successful effort to buy rival Cadbury Plc.

Published reports at the time painted a rift between West and the Hershey Trust over whether to bid for Cadbury, which would have left Hershey with a lot of debt.

West could not be reached for comment.

John Bilbrey, Hershey's chief operating officer, has been named interim president and chief executive, the company said. Bilbrey has been with Hershey since 2003.

Hershey Chairman James Nevels said the board will work quickly to name a permanent CEO.

(Reporting by Brad Dorfman, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Robert MacMillan)