Investment funds turn up heat on Danone to name new CEO

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. investor Artisan Partners on Friday joined activist firm BlueBell Capital Partners in urging French food group Danone <DANO.PA to find a new CEO to improve its governance practices and speed up efforts to boost returns.

FILE PHOTO: Emmanuel Faber, Chief Executive of French food group Danone, poses before a news conference to present the company's 2019 annual results in Paris, France, February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

Chairman and Chief Executive Emmanuel Faber has come under growing pressure as activist shareholders push for changes at a group which has lagged some rivals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Danone said in a statement sent to Reuters its board of directors and management team welcomed ideas from all shareholders, but did not answer calls for a new CEO.

“Understanding shareholder priorities is a top priority of the senior management team and the board of directors”, the maker of Activia yoghurts said.

French daily Le Monde said Danone’s board of directors was due to meet on March 1. Danone didn’t confirm the meeting.

Artisan, which has a 3% stake in Danone, called for a split in the roles of CEO and chairman, echoing Bluebell’s demands.

“The roles of CEO and chairman should be split to reflectmodern-day corporate governance. Governance standards also require that prior leadership leave the board. And logic demands more consumer goods experience on the board of directors,” wrote Artisan.

“A new, non-financial CEO with consumer goods experience and a track record of success should be installed as soon as possible to restore Danone to the elevated status it deserves within the French business establishment.”

Artisan has previously urged Danone to sell underperforming brands, such as Asian water label Mizone.

In recent months Faber had taken steps to try to ward off activist investors, announcing in November a plan to cut 2,000 jobs, trim product ranges and sell some assets, including the group’s business in Argentina and its Vega plant-based brand.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Sarah White and Matthieu Protard. Editing by David Goodman and Mark Potter