Third Point, Campbell spar over plans for company's future

(Reuters) - Investment firm Third Point LLC and Campbell Soup Co CPB.N squared off over plans for the company's future on Tuesday, with the hedge fund pushing for hiring a "highly qualified" chief executive officer and the company saying it was already searching for a permanent chief.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Third Point, the $17 billion hedge fund run by Daniel Loeb, unveiled a 100-day plan that includes reviewing the company’s recently concluded strategic review and reevaluating its planned divestitures, hiring a “world-class permanent CEO” and refreshing the company’s core legacy products.

The company said the hedge fund “simply and effectively copied and pasted the actual plan outlined by Campbell”, adding that the plan was not thoroughly thought out.

“Vote for us and we’ll think of something,” the company said about Third Point’s plan.

Loeb has nominated 12 directors, including an heir of Campbell’s controlling family, to replace all board members at the Nov. 29 annual meeting, in what will be the season’s most contentious proxy battle.

But he faces a high hurdle with other heirs controlling roughly 40 percent of the company.

Loeb and his nominees are set to make their case to influential proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services on Tuesday that will issue a report in several weeks.

Campbell has been hurt by falling soup sales and a higher debt burden in the wake of its Snyder’s-Lance acquisition. Its former chief executive, Denise Morrison, left abruptly in May and has been replaced by board member Keith McLoughlin on an interim basis.

The company said on Tuesday it was already searching for a permanent chief, with Third Point saying the proxy contest would make it difficult for Campbell to attract top talent.

The hedge fund said Bill Toler, a member of its slate and CEO of Hostess Brands, would be prepared to step in as interim CEO if needed.

Third Point last week sued Campbell in a New Jersey court alleging that the company misled investors with incorrect statement.

A ruling could come as soon as Friday which could potentially allow the hedge fund’s lawyers to question Campbell board members Mary Alice Malone and Bennett Dorrance.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva