Sean Connolly

"The company has a unique portfolio and a motivated team," Sean Connolly said.

ConAgra Foods’ next president and chief executive officer is a food industry veteran who will bring “focus and enthusiasm” to the Omaha-based food manufacturer, the company chairman said Thursday.

Sean M. Connolly, 49, is an “ideal fit” to lead ConAgra, board Chairman Steve Goldstone said, because of Connolly’s “track record of building brands, energizing teams and creating value.”

Most recently Connolly was president and CEO of the Hillshire Brands Co. from the time it was formed in 2012 until its sale to Tyson Foods in August 2014.

Connolly will replace Gary Rodkin, who joined ConAgra in 2005 and announced in August that he would retire by May 31.

Connolly will start March 3 as CEO-elect, and will work with Rodkin before taking over as CEO on April 6. Rodkin then will serve as adviser to ConAgra through May 31.

Connolly’s contract, through Aug. 1, 2018, provides an initial base salary of $1.1 million plus stock options and shares. Starting in the 2016 fiscal year he will be eligible for annual incentive bonuses.

He also will receive a one-time cash payment of $65,000 to cover expenses of relocating to Omaha, and reimbursement to cover the cost of negotiating his compensation package. He will be entitled to use corporate aircraft, and he would be responsible for costs over $150,000 in any fiscal year.

Connolly also has served as CEO for Sara Lee North American Retail and Foodservice as well as president of Campbell Soup North America, following some time at Procter & Gamble, where he managed several brands in its food and beverage division.

He earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in economics at Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, Diana, have four children.

Connolly joins ConAgra as the company tries to turn around falling sales of some of its top retail brands, and as it struggles to integrate the Ralcorp Holdings private label business it acquired in 2013.

Separately Thursday, ConAgra lowered expectations for earnings growth in its 2015 fiscal year to between $2.13 and $2.18 per share. Previously it said earnings would show a mid-single-digit growth rate over the $2.17 per share earned in fiscal 2014.

ConAgra said most of the change is a result of the West Coast longshoremen labor dispute, which is slowing international exports, along with weaker than planned profitability and “execution shortfalls” in its private brands business. ConAgra said it may further write down the value of goodwill in the segment.

ConAgra said it still expects to meet its debt reduction goals and will continue paying a “strong” dividend.

The company, which employs 3,400 in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, had annual sales of $17.7 billion in the 2014 fiscal year ending May 25 across its retail, commercial and private brands businesses. Its brands include Banquet, Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s, Healthy Choice and Orville Redenbacher’s.

Connolly said he is excited to start at ConAgra. “The company has a unique portfolio and a motivated team. I’m looking forward to transitioning with Gary, and creating a lot of value over time.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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