Aryzta, the Swiss-Irish food group, has said its European boss Hilliard Lombard, who was recently awarded more than €5.5 million in stock options and elevated to the company’s senior executive team, is to leave at the end of January.
Mr Lombard joined Aryzta in 2004. In a statement, the group said he has decided to pursue other interests. Mr Killian welcomed the contribution Mr Lombard had made to the company and wish him well for the future.
He is chief executive of the group's European and Asia Pacific operations. Aryzta confirmed early last month that it had recently added him to its five-person senior executive team.
The frozen bakery specialist, best known here for its Cuisine De France brand, notified the Irish Stock Exchange in early October that it had awarded Mr Lombard 150,000 shares, worth 40.59 Swiss francs (€37.45) each, equivalent to more than half the entire allocation to senior executives last year.
News of his departure comes ahead of a first-quarter interim management statement that the company is due to publish next Monday. It will be the first update on its its performance since September, when it announced a 1.7 per cent decline in underlying net profits for the 12 months ended July 31st to €330 million.
Following his departure, Dermot Murphy, managing director of Aryzta Food Solutions and Frank Kleiner, managing director of European/APAC Bakeries will report directly to the chief executive Owen Killian.
The announcement sparked some speculation that margins in its European business, which declined by 1.6 per cent in its last financial year, remain under pressure.
While industry analysts expect Monday’s statement to show some decline, they fear that the performance could be worse than anticipated. Aryzta is in a closed period ahead of issuing the update and therefore cannot discuss financial information before then.
Mr Lombard’s departure comes at a difficult time or the group following a slide in investor confidence linked to concerns about its acquisition strategy and the underlying health of its US business.
Aryzta's shares have dropped by nearly 50 per cent since January amid concern about its recent acquisition of a 49 per cent stake in French frozen food group Picard for €446 million, deemed expensive by industry standards. The shares sell-off has also been linked to the under-performance of its North American business, which lists McDonald's and Subway among its clients.
In a statement, Mr Lombard described working with the food group as a privilege "Arytza is a great company with very talented people," he said.
“ Under the passionate and visionary leadership of Owen Killian, Arytza has become an international player of scale in speciality food. It has been great to have played a part in that transformational journey.”