Prepared meat and bakery giantSara Lee Corp., Chicago, will never see another top executive quite like Brenda Barnes, the company's chairman and CEO.
That's because -- moving forward -- Sara Lee has agreed to recruit an independent chairman and separate the roles of the chairman and CEO. TheLondon Financial Timessaid Sara Lee responded to pressure about such a move byNorges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), Olso, Norway.
NBIM manages US $400 billion of Norway's central bank assets. Reported as the world's second largest retirement investment group, NBIM recently launched a campaign to persuade a series of U.S. companies to separate the chairman from the chief executive role. Others include Harris Corporation, Parker Hannifin, Cardinal Health Inc and Clorox.
NBIM says the roles of chairman and CEO are fundamentally different and should not be held by the same person. There should be a clear division of the responsibilities between these positions to ensure a balance of power and authority on the board.
"This is a fundamental principle of good corporate governance that we seek globally for our portfolio companies," said NBIM's Anne Kvam, global head of corporate governance.
"The board should be led by an independent Chairman and be in a position to make independent evaluations and decisions, hire management, set a remuneration policy that encourages good performance, provide strategic direction and have the support to take long-term views in the development of business strategies.
"An independent Chairman is better able to oversee and give guidance to Corporation executives and help prevent conflict or the perception of conflict. This will in turn effectively strengthen the system of checks-and-balances within the corporate structure and protect stockholder value."
TheFinancial Timessaid NBIM withdrew a similar resolution calling for a shareholder vote at Sara Lee’s annual meeting on October 29 after the food group agreed that it would recruit an independent chairman.
There was no additional information about the status of Brenda Barnes, who has been Sara Lee's chairman and chief executive since 2005.