Outgoing Chiquita Brands International CEO Fernando Aguirre told the Rotary Club of Charlotte on Tuesday that his departure had been planned for early 2013, but the company bumped it up in order to get started on a turnaround plan.
This transition is part of that, said Aguirre.
Last week, after worse-than expected earnings, the company announced it was seeking a new CEO and planning to cut $60 million worth of expenses in order to improve its results. Aguirre, who led the companys push to move to Charlotte from Cincinnati, had already been scheduled to speak prior to last weeks announcement.
Chiquitas stock has risen 14 percent in the past five days, as investors react positively to the companys turnaround plan. But the shares, which closed at $5.78 on Tuesday, are still down nearly 80 percent from their five-year high.
Aguirre, 54, told the crowd that some people have seemed unsure how to react to him since the unexpected announcement of his upcoming departure.
Emails have been a little mixed, some positive, but some sound like I died, he said of messages hes received. It is very lonely at the top. This is never more true than when people consider you a lame duck.
Last week, Aguirre said the board was interviewing possible candidates.
He also repeated his commitment to meet Chiquitas targets for government incentive money. The company was lured to Charlotte largely thanks to more than $22 million worth of incentive money, mostly tied to creating 400 local jobs with an average salary of $100,000.
We dont get paid if we dont meet our commitments, said Aguirre.
He said the company is ahead of its assigned yearly targets, and plans to have enough people working in Charlotte by the end of August to meet its second-year goals. Charlotte will lose 15 jobs as part of the expense reductions, including two people hired locally and 13 who were to move from Cincinnati.
In addition to the expense cuts and leadership change, Chiquita executives have also pledged to not put money into developing new products and to note acquire any companies, instead focusing on paying down the companys more than $550 million in debt. Its a move some analysts are cheering.
At least the company is making debt reduction a priority now rather than using free cash flow for innovation and diversification, a strategy pursued by the departing CEO, wrote Kimberly Noland, an analyst for the bond agency Gimme Credit.
Aguirre reiterated that he will remain at the helm of the company until his replacement is found, and that he plans to remain in Charlotte after he leaves Chiquita.
Were building a house here, and this is our home, he said.
Aguirre also said that he might write a book about leadership and seek to teach at a university. In March, Aguirre and his wife bought a $1.3 million home lot in south Charlotte, property records show.
Securities filings show Aguirre could be eligible for up to a $4.7 million severance payment when he leaves the company. His transition agreement specifies he will be paid $40,000 per month to be a consultant for Chiquita for 12 months after he leaves.