Altria CEO Howard Willard retires
Altria CFO Billy Gifford is new CEO; Dominion Energy CEO Thomas Farrell is now Altria's chairman.
Altria Group Inc. Chairman and CEO Howard Willard, who took a medical leave of absence in March after testing positive for COVID-19, has retired from his position heading up the Henrico County-based Fortune 500 parent company of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA, effective April 14.
Altria’s Board of Directors elected William F. “Billy” Gifford Jr. to serve as CEO. The company’s former vice chairman and chief financial officer, Gifford had been serving as acting CEO since Willard stepped down last month. The board also separated the positions of chairman and CEO, electing Dominion Energy Chairman, President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II as the board’s chairman.
“The board thanks Howard for his nearly 30 years of distinguished service to Altria and for helping to set the course for Altria’s 10-year vision to responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a non-combustible future,” Farrell said in a statement. “Our election of Billy as the next CEO reflects the Board’s belief that his collaborative leadership style, strategic mindset and deep financial and industry expertise are right to lead Altria towards that future.”
Willard, who was tapped as CEO in 2018, is recovering at home from the coronavirus according to a spokesperson. His brief tenure heading up the company was turbulent, largely stemming from Altria’s $12.8 billion investment to obtain a 35% stake in San Francisco-based e-cigarette producer Juul Labs Inc. The Altria Board of Directors voted not to award Willard a bonus for 2019, a year in which Altria had $8 billion in writedowns on its investment in the controversial Juul, which came under fire from schools, parents and public health advocates who charged that the company was largely to blame for an epidemic of teen nicotine addiction via Juul’s popular vaping devices and flavored nicotine-infused liquid pods.
The Federal Trade Commission filed an antitrust complaint on April 1, alleging that Altria and Juul cut a secret deal in fall 2018 that Altria would exit the vaping market. Altria said publicly it was no longer manufacturing its own e-cigarette products due to public health concerns about teens vaping.
“For several years, Altria and JUUL were competitors in the market for closed-system e-cigarettes. By the end of 2018, Altria orchestrated its exit from the e-cigarette market and became JUUL’s largest investor,” said Ian Conner, the FTC’s director of the Bureau of Competition, in a statement. “Altria and JUUL turned from competitors to collaborators by eliminating competition and sharing in JUUL’s profits.”
Willard worked at Altria and its forerunner, Philip Morris Companies Inc., for 28 years, previously serving as Altria’s chief operating officer. Before joining Philip Morris Companies, Willard worked for Bain & Company and Salomon Brothers Inc. He has served on the Management Roundtable and Kennedy Center Corporate Fund Board of Vice Chairs and is a member of the Catalyst CEOs Champions for Change’s board of directors, though it is unclear if he will continue in those roles.
“We believe we’re well positioned to make significant progress against our vision,” said Gifford, who has worked for Altria and its subsidiaries for more than 25 years. “I’m excited to work with our strong leadership team, fantastic employees and key stakeholders to lead Altria forward in its pursuit of the 10-year vision.”
The former president and CEO of Philip Morris USA, Gifford serves as a director at Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV as one of Altria’s designees. As vice chairman and CFO, he was responsible for Altria’s financial functions as well as its core tobacco businesses, sales and distribution business, and its Consumer & Marketplace Insights team.
Salvatore Mancuso will succeed Gifford as Altria’s executive vice president and CFO. A 29-year veteran of the company, he most recently worked as Altria’s senior vice president of finance and procurement. He also oversaw Altria’s treasury, tax, audit, financial planning and analysis and controller functions, in addition to heading up the corporation’s Procurement and Information Services teams.
“Sal is a well-respected leader across our finance organization and the Altria family of companies. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him in his new role as our CFO,” Gifford said.
One of the world’s largest manufacturers of cigarettes and tobacco products, Altria also holds equity stakes in Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV and Cronos Group Inc., a Canadian cannabis company.