Altria Group today announced Howard Willard’s retirement as chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Altria, effective April 14, 2020. Willard, who was recovering from Covid-19, decided to step down following 28 years of distinguished service to Altria and its subsidiaries.
Following Willard’s retirement, Altria’s board of directors elected Billy Gifford to serve as Altria’s CEO. Gifford has served in numerous senior leadership roles during his more than 25-year career at Altria, including most recently vice chairman and chief financial officer where he was responsible for Altria’s financial functions as well as its core tobacco businesses, sales and distribution business, and consumer & marketplace insights team. Previously he served as Altria’s senior vice president, strategy and business development and president and CEO of Philip Morris USA. Gifford currently serves as a director at Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV as one of Altria’s designees.
Altria also announced the board’s decision to separate the roles of chairman and CEO. The board elected Thomas Farrell, formerly the board’s independent presiding director, as independent chairman of the board, effective April 16, 2020.
“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,” said Farrell. “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.”
“We believe we’re well positioned to make significant progress against our vision,” said Gifford. “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.”
With Gifford’s new position, the board also elected Salvatore Mancuso executive vice president and chief financial officer. Over the course of his more than 29 years with Altria, Mancuso has held a variety of leadership roles across the finance, compliance and strategy & business development organizations. In his most recent role as senior vice president, finance and procurement, Mancuso oversaw Altria’s treasury, tax, audit, financial planning & analysis, and controller functions while also overseeing the procurement and information services teams, among others.
“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,” said Gifford.
The CEO change does not come as a complete surprise, given the recent underperformance of Altria’s stock. Altria faced multiple setbacks during Willard’s two-year tenure, including two write-downs of its Juul investment and a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the December 2018 deal.
In a note to investors, Morgan Stanley said the leadership change offers Altria the opportunity to create shareholder value by, among other things, accelerating investment in reduced-risk products and accelerating share buybacks.