Smithfield Foods names its second CEO in less than a year


Dive Brief:

  • Smithfield Foods named Shane Smith, a two-decade veteran of the company and most recently its chief strategy officer, as its president and CEO, effective immediately, the company said in a statement. He replaces Dennis Organ, who is stepping down for personal reasons after less than a year in the role.
  • Before taking over as chief strategy officer, Smith served as executive vice president of Smithfield’s European operations, where he was responsible for overseeing the company’s operations, capital investments, expansion into new markets, and mergers and acquisitions abroad.
  • The change at Smithfield comes just six weeks after Tyson Foods announced its CEO was leaving the job after less than a year, also citing personal reasons. 

Dive Insight:

The meat and poultry space has suddenly become a revolving door at the top, with two of the largest companies in the United States naming new leaders after their previous CEOs left after less than a year on the job.

While the leadership announcements at both Tyson and now Smithfield were attributed to “personal reasons,” they come at a time of great upheaval for the industry. 

The meatpacking industry as a whole was hit particularly hard during the early stages of the outbreak last spring, and Smithfield was no exception. In recent years, Smithfield and other meat and poultry processors also have been accused of fixing prices. Smithfield, the world’s largest pork packer, announced in June it would pay $83 million to settle litigation that accused it and several other companies of conspiring to inflate prices and boost profits by limiting the supply of pork.

On Friday, the White House committed more than $655 million and promised changes to dated federal laws to help smaller meat processors better compete with much larger multinational competitors that have grown to their size through decades of consolidation. Further deal-making could be imminent, with Sanderson Farms, the nation’s third-largest chicken processor, reportedly exploring a sale. 

In picking Smith as its new CEO, Smithfield goes with an insider who has been with the company in various roles for nearly two decades. His insight of the industry and Smithfield itself will be invaluable helping the company navigate the myriad of challenges it is facing since he will not have to take time getting up to speed.

Smith’s experience in Europe overseeing everything from its operations, capital investments, expansion into new markets and M&A will benefit him in taking over a company that, while based in the U.S., is becoming increasingly global under parent WH Group, which is based in China. In announcing his appointment, Smithfield noted that Smith’s extensive experience with both its European and U.S. businesses will help the company more quickly roll out so-called “best practices” across its expansive global footprint.

The C-suite announcement continues an active period of change at Smithfield. In January, then-CEO Organ announced a management shakeup, including a series of retirements and appointments. While the new appointments largely came from within the company, they likely signified at the time that the new CEO wanted to instill his own leadership. It is possible Smith will want install some of his own trusted advisors, but Smithfield also needs to be careful not to create even more disruptive turmoil at the top.

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