O'Reilly to leave when he's ready, willing and able

 

SO just when will Tony O'Reilly step down as chief executive officer of the global food giant, HJ Heinz? The official line from Pittsburgh is that he will do so when the restructuring announced last week is "well underway". This would appear to rule out a move this year. The smart money would be on a hand over to William Johnson some time between the middle of next year and early 1999.

O'Reilly himself bats questions on the subject away in typical fashion. He tells the story of Liam Healy, chief executive of Independent Newspapers, visiting Australia. One of his travelling companions was asked when Healy was going to resign. "When he's 65," was the answer. "And what age is he now," the questioner asked? "Sixty seven" was the reply.

But even when he hands over the post of chief executive, the official line is that O'Reilly will remain as a "very active" chairman. Well he might, with a shareholding worth close to $300 million.