Connolly: Prepare for change at ConAgra

by Keith Nunes
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ConAgra CEO tells employees to brace for change.
ConAgra CEO tells employees to brace for change.

OMAHA – Sean Connolly, CEO of ConAgra Foods, told employees and investors that change is coming and that not all of the changes will be pleasant. Connolly spoke Sept. 25 during the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

“When I joined ConAgra, I pledged to be as transparent as possible on what lies ahead, and I meant it,” Connolly said. “I also told our employees that when final decisions are made, we would communicate those details to them first. And I fully intend to honor that commitment (and) therefore I’m limited in what I could share with you here today. But I will share this. We are going to rebuild this company into a winner, and yes, that will require some meaningful change. 

Sean Connolly, CEO of ConAgra Foods
Sean Connolly, CEO of ConAgra Foods

“Simply put, our industry dynamics have changed. And to stay competitive, our strategies must change, too. When a company strategy changes, the design of that organization usually changes with it and we wouldn't be immune from that.”

Change already announced by the company include the planned divestiture of its private label business unit, the acquisition of Blake’s All Natural Foods and “major” renovations to such brands as Banquet and Healthy Choice.

“And while nothing has been finalized, it likely will be soon,” Connolly said. “In fact, if all goes as I anticipate, we intend to share more details with our employees by the end of next week. Where we are headed directionally is consistent with what we have alluded to before.”

Connolly went on to say that with the coming changes job reductions are likely as well as “geographic reshuffling.”

“Will Illinois have an important role in our future?” he said. “Likely, yes.”

The reference to Illinois by Connolly has prompted speculation ConAgra Foods is planning to move its headquarters out of Omaha and to Chicago. But Connolly noted during his presentation that ConAgra Foods will have a major presence in Omaha going forward.

“If all of this plays out as I suspect, it will be a mix of hard news, relief and excitement of our future,” Connolly said. “And clearly, if people are impacted, ConAgra will do the right thing. In the end, if we address our challenges and build a winner, our employees and our communities will prosper. That's about as much detail as I can get into at this point.”

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