McCormick & Co. Inc. chief executive Robert J. Lawless is relinquishing some of the reins to his heir apparent, Alan D. Wilson, as part of the company's succession plan.
The Sparks-based spice maker announced yesterday that Lawless will hand off the title of president to Wilson, 49, who is president of North American Consumer Foods and Supply Chain for McCormick, on Jan. 1. Wilson also will assume the newly revived post of chief operating officer.
Lawless will stay on as chief executive officer and chairman until his retirement, which the 60-year-old indicated yesterday was not imminent.
"I know it's a big event, and I'm very excited about the next generation at McCormick, but I'm not going anywhere anytime soon," said Lawless, a McCormick veteran who has headed the company for a decade. "I still have a lot of work to do."
Wilson's promotion was the most prominent of several top management changes announced yesterday. Iwan Williams, president of McCormick in Europe, will leave the company by the end of January. Lawless said the company wants "a new set of eyes" on the European business, which has had challenges as well as opportunities over the past two years, with a restructuring that included plant closures but also the acquisition of the Ducros brand in France.
Lawrence E. Kurzius, president of the company's U.S. Consumer Foods division, will take over the European job and report directly to Lawless. Kurzius, former chief executive of Zatarain's, joined McCormick in 2003 when it bought the New Orleans-based line of packaged foods and spices.
Mark T. Timbie, president for international products, will assume Wilson's current role in North America.
The transition comes as McCormick undergoes a three-year restructuring program, which started last year and includes the closure of several plants and the reduction of as many as 1,000 jobs.
While he could not comment on fourth-quarter or year-end results, Lawless said the company should make good on its promise of a strong recovery in 2006.
He expects Wilson to continue what he has done over the past 10 years - increase sales and value to shareholders and keep McCormick independent.
"Alan deserves this," Lawless said.
Analyst Mitchell Pinheiro of Philadelphia-based Janney Montgomery Scott LLC was not surprised that Wilson got the nod as heir apparent. With the integration of such acquisitions as Zatarain's, as well as the Simply Asia and Thai Kitchen brands, the consumer business has been "on a roll," Pinheiro said.
"When you're running the biggest, most profitable division of a company, the position has other ramifications as well," said Pinheiro, who doesn't own stock in McCormick and whose company doesn't do business with the spice maker.
Pinheiro said the shuffling of Kurzius and Timbie show that the company is grooming them for bigger roles and intends to continue promoting from within.
A 1980 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Wilson served four years in the Army as a nuclear weapons officer, including a stint as a liaison to British forces in Europe.
From there, the Seneca, S.C.-native joined Procter & Gamble, where he learned much about the consumer products business, holding positions in supply, procurement and manufacturing. He came to Baltimore when the Cincinnati-based consumer products giant purchased the cosmetics maker Noxell Corp. in 1989. Wilson was senior purchasing manager for Procter & Gamble's cosmetics business when he left to join McCormick in 1993.
"The business models are not that different," he said yesterday. "We really are a company that focuses on the customer."
Wilson was president of McCormick's Canadian operations from 1998 to 2001 and vice president and general manager of sales and marketing for the U.S. consumer business from 2001 to 2003. He was president of U.S. consumer foods until last year.
In his new position, Wilson will be responsible for McCormick's consumer and industrial businesses in North America and the Asia/Pacific region, as well as the company's supply chain and information technology.
Lawless said that the company's succession plan has been in the works for at least four years, and that the company's board of directors regularly evaluates the top 20 executives for promotions.
Also yesterday, Lawless declined to comment on a report in an Indian newspaper that McCormick is considering buying an Indian manufacturer of ready-to-eat meals, Bangalore-based MTR Foods Ltd.
McCormick stock closed at $39.52 yesterday, up 32 cents a share.