Rosenfeld has been with Mondelēz since it was spun off from Kraft Foods in 2012 – and was earlier Kraft CEO.
Yesterday’s announcement that Irene Rosenfeld will leave Mondelēz is bad news for gender equality in the boardroom.
The owner of Cadbury and Oreo announced that Rosenfeld, who moved over to Mondelēz in 2012 when it was spun off from Kraft Foods, would retire. The current CEO of McCain Foods, Dirk Van de Put, will replace her.
Rosenfeld had been a divisive figure among Mondelēz investors for several years. She had concentrated on growing margins through aggressive cost-cutting and innovation, and had only overseen one major acquisition since the company was formed: its merger with coffee giant Jacobs Douwe Egberts three years ago. A $23 billion play for Hershey in 2016 was unsuccessful.
Mondelēz had failed to deliver growth under Rosenfeld, recording a 5% decline in its second-quarter revenue – also announced yesterday – and seeing nearly $10 billion wiped from its net revenues since 2013. Its share price had grown steadily in that time and its margins remained relatively strong, but it wasn’t enough to avert serious hunger among the company’s investors for change. The snack company made a lot of noise around the fact that Van de Put, as head of McCain Foods, had delivered 50% growth in net sales and steered the company to double-digit EBITDA growth. That tells you all you need to know.
‘A loss for women in the boardroom’
But – though not unthinkable – her retirement is still significant. Rosenfeld is a 35-year veteran of the food industry who has served as boss of Kraft Foods, and then Mondelēz, for over a decade. She was a figurehead for both companies and an icon within the industry, voted one of Forbes’ ten most powerful women on five occasions since joining Kraft in 2006.
Between 2007 and 2011, Rosenfeld was a regular fixture on Forbes’ list, as was another food industry leader – Indra Nooyi.
After Rosenfeld’s retirement, PepsiCo’s Nooyi is now the only woman in charge at any of the world’s 25 largest food and beverage manufacturers.
In fact, FoodBev makes it two in 50: Campbell’s Denise Morrison is the only other female CEO in the top 50, with Michele Beck of Hershey just missing out.
It’s a striking statistic that puts a sharp focus on the lack of gender equality in the boardrooms of major companies. Less than 5% of S&P 500 companies have a female chief executive, and women only make up one-fifth of all S&P 500 board members, according to research for 2016 conducted by senior leadership consultants Spencer Stuart.
The situation is improving, with many boards prioritising female appointments, but there is still a lot of work to be done before the industry reaches parity.
According to Lord Davies, who led a review of gender equality for the UK government in 2011, “the business case for increasing the number of women on corporate boards is clear”.
“When women are so under-represented on corporate boards, companies are missing out, as they are unable to draw from the widest possible range of talent,” Lord Davies wrote in the final report. “Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender-diverse boards have a positive impact on performance.
“It is clear that boards make better decisions where a range of voices, drawing on different life experiences, can be heard. That mix of voices must include women.”
The food and beverage industry has prioritised opportunities for female employees in recent years, integrating new diversity plans with their environmental and social responsibility targets. But it’s not just women who are lacking on company boards.
Back to Spencer Stuart again for the figures: 77% of directors at the 200 leading S&P 500 businesses are classed as ‘non-minority’– slightly higher than the figure of 72%, which the US census says is the proportion of ‘white Americans’. In fact, fewer minority appointments were made in 2016 than the year before, suggesting that progress in increasing gender equality on boards does not extend to race.
According to the report, the average company director stays in position for eight years and four months, is white, male, and aged around 63 – two years older than a decade ago.
Spencer Stuart found that companies led by women are more likely to give opportunities to female directors. The three leading food companies in terms of female board representation were PepsiCo, Campbell’s and Mondelēz – those three that have female CEOs.
In fact, one of the main challenges of increasing female representation at board level is overturning corporate culture: often a male-dominated environment that tends to give more opportunities to white men than women or ethnic minorities.
Many companies in the industry are making important strides – but, if there was any doubt before, the figures speak for themselves. More needs to be done to foster a culture of diversity and inclusivity in the food and beverage sector. And the departure of Irene Rosenfeld from Mondelēz, though not directly related to her gender of course, will definitely be a loss.
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© FoodBev Media Ltd 2017