O'Reilly retires at Heinz in April


Dr Tony O'Reilly is to retire as chief executive of HJ Heinz next April. However, he will remain on as non-executive chairman until at least September 2000. He will be succeeded as chief executive by Mr William Johnson (48), widely seen as front-runner for the post following his appointment as president and chief operating officer in June 1996. Mr Johnson will be only the sixth chief executive in the 128-year history of the company.

Dr O'Reilly (61) was appointed as chief executive in 1979 and chairman in 1987. During his tenure, Heinz has grown significantly, with its market capitalisation rising from $900 million in 1980 to $19 billion today.

It has expanded during the period into a worldwide food group, developing new operations in every continent.

Dr O'Reilly is likely to remain a significant player in HJ Heinz following his retirement from an executive role. He is the group's largest individual - as opposed to institutional - shareholder, with stock valued at $400 million.

He is also likely to use his extra time to focus on his Irish interests, particularly Independent Newspapers and Waterford Wedgwood.

Mr Johnson - a Texan who has worked with Heinz since 1982 - was identified by Dr O'Reilly as his likely successor in October 1995 and was appointed president and chief operations officer the following June.

In September 1996, Dr O'Reilly announced that Heinz would undertake a major review of its global operations to further improve growth and productivity.

Six months later, Dr O'Reilly and Mr Johnson launched "project millennia", the company's largest ever reorganisation, designed to produce annual earnings growth of 10 per cent to 12 per cent into the next century and to rationalise its global manufacturing facilities.