Jeff Harmening Promoted to CEO of General Mills
General Mills will have a new chief executive come June 1 as current CEO Ken Powell announced his departure from the company after a decade at the helm.
Jeff Harmening, who has served as president and chief operating officer of the Golden Valley-based food company for 11 months, was elected to take the helm by General Mills’ board.
Rumors began to circulate last summer that Harmening would soon be named CEO after his promotion to the No. 2 spot at General Mills. Both Powell and his predecessor, Steve Sanger, held the same position before being named chief executive.
“The board unanimously cast its vote for Jeff as the best candidate to lead this venerable 150-year-old company,” R. Kerry Clark, independent lead director of General Mills’ board, said in a statement. “Jeff knows how to build talented teams and has extensive experience both in the U.S. and globally.”
Harmening has spent his entire career at General Mills. He cut his teeth in the company’s marketing department, working at General Mills’ Betty Crocker, Yoplait and Big G cereal divisions. Much of his time at the company has involved its cereal business. For two years, he ran Cereal Partners Worldwide, a joint venture between General Mills and NestlÃ©. General Mills credits Harmening for the successful launch of Berry Burst Cheerios.
Cereal sales have staled in recent years as customer tastes have shifted away from carb-laden foods to healthier options. A key task Harmening will face on day one as CEO will be leading General Mills’ ongoing transition away from processed foods. Powell kicked off this effort in recent years, including steering the company away from including artificial colors and flavors in its cereals.
Harmening appears well aware of the challenge ahead of him. He presided over General Mills’ domestic retail business—which makes up over half its annual revenue—during its acquisitions of Annie’s and EPIC Provisions, two organic food brands that have seen steady year-over-year sales since their purchase.
In a statement, Powell called Harmening “the right leader” for General Mills.
“[Harmening] is not afraid to challenge the status quo,” Clark added. “He is a tenacious and resilient leader.”