Newsmaker: Rosenfeld wakes market with Kraft split plan
CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kraft Foods Inc KFT.N CEO Irene Rosenfeld ended her victorious five-month battle for British chocolatier Cadbury last year saying she wanted a good night's sleep.
Apparently rested, she woke up the market on Thursday with a predawn announcement that she was splitting Kraft up, separating Cadbury and the rest of the candy, cookie and snacks business from a North American grocery business that includes Kraft cheese and Oscar Mayer lunch meat.
On one hand, the move is typical of Rosenfeld since she took over at Kraft in 2006. On her watch, Kraft made the $18.5 billion Cadbury purchase, acquired Lu biscuits and divested the Post cereal business.
"There seems to always be something going on there," Morningstar analyst Erin Lash said.
But some analysts wonder what exactly is going on.
Rosenfeld is known for standing her ground, including in her bid for Cadbury, when even Kraft's largest shareholder, Warren Buffett, warned against overpaying.
In 2009, when she rolled out new operational guidelines for Kraft, she had sharp plans for what to do with employees who resisted.
"You roll right over them," Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld, 58, has sometimes been seen as tough and stubborn, according to Tom Pirko, founder of consulting firm Bevmark LLC, who worked with Cadbury Chief Todd Stitzer when the company, and much of Britain, fiercely opposed the takeover by a foreigner.
But the question now is whether Rosenfeld is rolling back Kraft's ambition by splitting the company up.
"If anything, I would say that the act is reactionary, based upon shareholder pressure, a measure designed to protect each business from the other," Pirko said.
The second-most powerful American businesswoman as ranked by Fortune magazine, Rosenfeld has had to deal with powerful and vocal shareholders, including Buffett and activist investors Nelson Peltz and William Ackman.
Peltz, who once pushed Kraft to add two board members of his choosing, disclosed a 12.2 million share stake in Kraft in June through his firm, Trian Fund Management. That sparked speculation the split was pushed by Peltz.
But Rosenfeld insisted Kraft has mulled a split for years.
"It is not a new consideration. We've been evaluating it for quite some time and, actually, it dates back to the Lu biscuit acquisition," Rosenfeld said in an interview.
A source familiar with the situation confirmed this and said Kraft at the time decided the snacks and sweets business was too small to stand alone.
The Cadbury acquisition boosted the business and eventually led to Kraft revisiting the split.
"As we continue to progress in our strategic thinking for the combined company and looking out to the next couple of years, we determined that this was an idea whose time had come," Rosenfeld said.
GONE, THEN BACK AGAIN
Rosenfeld, who listed her childhood ambition as being president of the United States, has charted a steady rise in the food industry since earning a doctoral degree in marketing and statistics from Cornell University, where she played basketball until she broke a leg during her freshman year.
She rose through the ranks at General Foods as that company became part of Philip Morris Cos, which later combined it with another acquisition, Kraft.
Rosenfeld eventually led the integration of Nabisco into the Kraft business and was part of the team that led Kraft's initial public offering from Philip Morris -- now Altria Group Inc (MO.N) -- in 2001.
After leaving Kraft in 2003, Rosenfeld became head of PepsiCo Inc's (PEP.N) Frito-Lay snacks unit, where she pushed for healthier products.
Meanwhile, Kraft suffered from slow sales growth and a series of restructurings that cut into profits.
In 2006, Rosenfeld went back to Kraft as CEO and became chairman in 2007. She has pushed more money into marketing and product development, which has helped to boost sales and recover some market share.
Rosenfeld knows her reputation depends by how well the split works.
"It will be the legacy of me and my management team," she added.
(Writing by Brad Dorfman; additional reporting by Jessica Hall in Philadelphia; editing by Andre Grenon)
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