Smithfield Foods sees wave of departures among corporate officers

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Smithfield Foods has seen a wave of departures among its corporate officers over the past four months.

The company’s former chief operating officer, Brady Stewart, resigned Dec. 20 to accept a position with Arkansas-headquartered competitor Tyson Foods, according to Smithfield and Tyson press releases.

Smithfield had previously announced on Nov. 29 that its former chief financial officer, Glenn Nunziata, would leave the company at the end of 2022.

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Russ Dokken, according to his LinkedIn profile, recently retired as Smithfield’s chief sales officer after 36 years with the company.

Keira Lombardo, who’d been with Smithfield for 20 years, resigned as the company’s chief administrative officer in September, according to her LinkedIn profile. 

Stewart had joined Smithfield in 2017 and been its chief operating officer since 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile. He’d joined Smithfield initially as vice president and general manager of Kansas City Sausage Company and Pine Ridge Farms when Smithfield acquired the companies. As chief operating officer, Stewart had been responsible for leading Smithfield’s business across more than 500 company-owned farms and 46 production facilities in the United States, Tyson’s press release states.

“While the company evaluates longer-term organizational changes, members of Smithfield’s operations team – including those leading hog production, manufacturing, fresh pork, business management and sales” are to report to President and Chief Executive Officer Shane Smith “effective immediately,” Smithfield’s Dec. 20 press release stated.

Nunziata, according to his Smithfield biography, joined the company as its CFO in 2015 after spending 19 years with the New York, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Richmond offices of the London-headquartered Ernst & Young accounting firm. As CFO, Nunziata was responsible for overseeing the company’s finances, taxes, risk management and served as Smithfield’s principal accounting officer.

Nunziata, in Smithfield’s Nov. 29 press release, called his time with the company and with Ernst & Young the “highlight” of his career, and contended the “future is bright” for Smithfield. Nunziata added that he planned to “take some time to consider the next phase” of his career.

Mark Hall, formerly Smithfield’s executive vice president of finance, has taken Nunziata’s place as CFO effective Jan. 1. Hall, according to a Smithfield press release, joined the company in 2014 as vice president of finance for Smithfield’s John Morrell Food Group brand, and was promoted in 2015 to the same position for Smithfield’s combined packaged meats business. He assumed his immediate past role as executive vice president of finance in late 2020.

Dokken was named to the chief sales officer position in 2021, according to past reporting by The Smithfield Times. In that role, he was responsible for aligning sales, marketing, product innovation and business management initiatives. Dokken began his career in 1986, also with John Morrell, before the company was acquired by Smithfield in 1995.

Lombardo, according to past Times reporting, had been in her chief administrative officer role since 2021. In that role, she led the company’s administrative operations, including corporate communications, external affairs, government affairs, human resources, investor relations, legal and sustainability functions.

Dokken and Lombardo each entered what would become their final positions with Smithfield during the brief tenure of former President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Organ.  Organ became president and CEO on Nov. 27, 2020, succeeding Kenneth Sullivan, who had held the position since 2015, but then stepped down himself in July 2021 and was succeeded by Smith.

Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield, denied there was any sort of connection between the four officers’ recent decisions to leave.

“These were decisions made by the individuals involved,” Monroe said.

Old Dominion University finance professor Thomas Schneider, however, contends the four departures coincide with the sale of Smithfield’s seasoning division, known as Saratoga Food Specialties, to Solina Group, a French food company. Smithfield’s Hong Kong-based parent company, WH Group, announced the sale on Oct. 3, listing a sale price of $587.5 million.

According to a filing by WH Group Chairman Wan Long, WH Group “expects to recognize a gain” of approximately $467 million, before costs and expenses, relating to the sale in the fiscal year ending Dec. 31.

“Executive departures timed around large deals like this are not unusual in the corporate world as companies sort themselves for efficiency,” Schneider said.

The departures may also reflect continued fallout from a feud that began in 2021 between Wan Long and his son, Wan Hongjian, Schneider speculated. According to reporting by Business Insider and the Wall Street Journal, shares in WH Group plunged 11.6% in August of that year after Hongjian, the firm’s former executive director, accused his father of tax evasion and overseeing corporate fraud. Hongjian, according to Business Insider, had been fired from his father’s company in June of that year for “aggressive behaviors.”

According to Schneider, Hongjian specifically alleged that WH Group’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods in 2013 was primarily aimed at helping Long move money outside of China.

“Regardless of the underlying motives, this deal will enable Solina Group to expand its business to the U.S., and it will leave Smithfield a leaner company to focus on the pork business,” Schneider said.

Monroe called Schneider’s speculation “really off the mark” and “inaccurate.”

“Smithfield has a strong management team in place,” Monroe said. “Most importantly, we have 60,000 outstanding team members around the globe, most of whom work on the front lines doing the work of producing good food the right way.”

Smithfield employs about 3,000 people locally between its headquarters and the meatpacking plant in town.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Jim Monroe, Smithfield Foods’ vice president of corporate affairs.