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CEO of the Week: Altria Group’s William “Billy” Gifford

Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA, has a new CEO: William “Billy” Gifford.

Gifford had been temporarily serving in the top post as then-CEO Howard Willard contracted COVID-19 in March. Willard last month then decided to retire as chairman and CEO after working nearly three decades at the Richmond, Virginia-company and its subsidiaries. In addition to the tobacco product maker, Altria’s other units include U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.; John Middleton; Nat Sherman; Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Philip Morris Capital Corp.

“Our election of Billy as the next CEO reflects the board’s belief that his collaborative leadership style, strategic mindset and deep financial and industry expertise are right to lead Altria towards that future,” newly elected chairman Thomas Farrell said in the announcement. Altria’s board separated the roles of chairman and CEO, and chose Farrell, formerly the board’s independent presiding director, to be the company’s independent chairman.

“We believe we’re well positioned to make significant progress against our vision,” Gifford said in the announcement. “I’m excited to work with our strong leadership team, fantastic employees and key stakeholders to lead Altria forward in its pursuit of the 10-year vision.”

Gifford is 25-year veteran of the company, most recently serving as vice chairman and CFO where he was responsible for Altria’s financial functions as well as its core tobacco businesses, sales and distribution business and consumer & market insights team.

He joined Philip Morris USA in 1994, and served in numerous leadership roles in strategy & business development, finance, marketing information & consumer research and as president and CEO. Prior to that, Gifford was vice president and treasurer for Altria Group.

Prior to joining Philip Morris USA, he worked at the public accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand, which currently is known as PwC.

For its first quarter, Altria earned $1.09 per share adjusted for non-recurring items, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 97 cents per share and representing an earnings surprise of 12.37%, according to Yahoo Finance. The company posted revenues of $5.05 billion, surpassing the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 9.23%.

“We had an excellent start to the year, growing our first-quarter adjusted diluted EPS by 18.5%, driven by the strength of our smokeable and oral tobacco products segments,” Gifford said in the earnings announcement.

Due to the uncertainties related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the timing of economic recovery, Altria withdrew its full-year 2020 adjusted diluted EPS guidance of $4.39 to $4.51, as well as its 2020 to 2022 compounded annual adjusted diluted EPS growth objective of 4% to 7%.

In March, Altria temporarily suspended operations at Philip Morris USA’s manufacturing center in Richmond “out of an abundance of caution” after a second employee tested positive for COVID-19. The company has since reopened the center under enhanced safety protocols and all of Altria’s manufacturing facilities are currently operational, the company said.

As of April 30, the date of Altria earnings release, the company said its units had not experienced any material disruptions to their supply chains or distribution systems. The units are continuing to monitor these risks and are executing against business continuity plans.


Headquarters: Richmond, Virginia

Age: 50

Education: Virginia Commonwealth University

First joined company: 1994 (at subsidiary, Philip Morris USA)

Prior to joining Altria: Accountant, Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC)

Named CEO: April 2020


Gifford is No. 121 on Chief Executive and RHR International’s CEO1000 Tracker, a ranking of the top 1,000 public/private companies.


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