DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. – CJ Fraleigh, chief executive officer of Sara Lee North America, has resigned to pursue other opportunities, Sara Lee Corp. announced. The company has begun searching for Fraleigh’s successor and intends to replace him as soon as possible. In the interim, Sara Lee Corp. CEO Marcel Smits will also assume responsibilities for leading the North American business. Fraleigh will be available to Smits during this transition.

“CJ played an important role in taking the North American business to this stage in its development,” said Jan Bennink, executive chairman of the board of Sara Lee Corp. “We now believe that a different approach is needed to transition the North American business into a pure-play company. On behalf of the board, we thank CJ for his contributions. Under his leadership, the North American business significantly improved its profitability, increased its rate of innovation and streamlined operations. He contributed to the development of what we believe is a solid strategy for the future and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

"We have a talented, experienced and highly capable North American senior team, and I look forward to working with them to drive the business forward during this transition,” Smits said.

Smits joined Sara Lee as chief financial officer in October 2009 and was appointed CEO in January 2011. That same month,, the company announced it intended to split into two separate publicly-held companies – “CoffeeCo” (International Coffee & Tea) and “MeatCo” (North American Meats). Last week, the company appointed Michiel Herkemij as chief executive officer of “CoffeeCo.” The company remains on track to execute the spin-off in the first half of calendar 2012.