PORTLAND, MAINE – Bruce Wagner, who joined Barber Foods as interim chief operating officer in November 2007, was promoted to chief executive officer in February, according to Mainebiz — making him the first chief executive from outside of the Barber family in its 54-year history.

In November, founder Gus Barber died. As the story goes, the late Mr. Barber’s son, Steve, who was c.e.o. at that time, had already decided to retire, and announced his intentions to Mr. Wagner to promote him.

Mr. Wagner had already started the transition to run the company and lead its 750 employees even before his promotion. He had started new initiatives to boost the company’s brand recognition. Mr. Wagner plans to revamp the company so its frozen chicken products can compete against major poultry processors.

To date, Mr. Wagner has launched a new regional advertising campaign that includes the company’s first television ad and a spot in People magazine. He hopes the campaign will increase the company’s brand recognition, from about 5% of the market compared to Tyson’s 90%. He’s also revamped the company’s production by introducing a quality-management strategy that streamlines productivity to reduce errors and increase efficiency.

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