Chocolate Scion Shakes up Governance with First Non-Family CEO

When Giovanni Ferrero became the outright CEO of Ferrero in 2011, he didn’t bet the house on the legacy of his father, who founded the chocolate maker in 1946.

In the six years since his brother and former co-CEO died in a car accident, he’s overhauled its slow-paced and meticulous production process, halved the time it takes to launch new products and hired new managers from overseas.

Now, he’s broken with tradition again by standing aside and appointing the Italian’s company’s first non-family CEO. The move doesn’t come down to a lack of success: profits at the maker of Nutella spread, Tic Tac candies and Kinder chocolate eggs have improved significantly during his reign. By taking a step back and becoming executive chairman, Ferrero, just age 52, hopes to concentrate on strategy, while letting his new CEO, Lapo Civiletti, take care of day-to-day management duties.

Civiletti currently heads up the company’s Central and Eastern European business. “He has been chosen for his business acumen, vision and mission-driven orientation while truly fostering the Ferrero culture and core values,” Ferrero said in a statement.

“THIS WILL BE THE ESSENTIAL STEP TO COMBINE THE BEST OF OUR WORLDS–OUR DISTINCTIVE ENTREPRENEURSHIP, OUR MANAGERICAL EXCELLENCE AND THE QUALITY OF ALL OUR PEOPLE.”

The pace of technological change also is transforming the ways CEOs allocate their resources. As recently reported by Chief Executive, some consultants are even recommending they delegate tasks to their COOs so they can devote more time to experimenting with ideas and conceiving new business models. Uber is one of the most recent companies currently looking for a No.2 (though its motivations for finding help for CEO Travis Kalanick might not stretch far beyond his tendency to wade into scandals).

Assuming an executive chairman’s role is also a common means by which CEOs—sometimes from family businesses—can give themselves a break after years of toiling, while still wielding influence. Rupert Murdoch, for instance, remains executive chairman of 21st Century Fox and News Corp. Evolving corporate governance expectations, meanwhile, have seen investors put more pressure on boards to pick talent based on more than blood alone.

Ferrero said its management reshuffle will allow Giovanni Ferrero to focus on long-term strategies, new business directions and innovations, while keeping the company’s culture and values intact. “This will be the essential step to combine “the best of our worlds”: our distinctive entrepreneurship, our managerial excellence and the quality of all our people, the perfect blend for success,” Ferrero said.

The company, long cited as a possible takeover target for the likes of Nestle or Hershey, remains privately owned. Perhaps the possibility of a share-market listing will be chief among strategy questions for Giovanni Ferrero to ponder.

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