Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., said CJ Fraleigh, chief executive officer of North America,  resigned from the company to pursue other opportunities. Sara Lee said it has begun searching for a successor, with the objective of making an appointment as soon as possible.

In the interim, Chief Executive Officer Marcel Smits also will assume responsibilities for leading the North American business. Sara Lee earlier said the spin-off North American Retail and Foodservice business (excluding North American beverage) will retain the Sara Lee name and is expected to account for approximately $4.2 billion of the company’s total fiscal 2011 net sales, based on the mid-point of current guidance. The business will include such retail and foodservice brands as Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm and Ball Park.

“CJ played an important role in taking the North American business to this stage in its development,” said Jan Bennink, executive chairman of the board of Sara Lee Corp.  “We now believe that a different approach is needed to transition the North American business into a pure-play company.” 

"On behalf of the board, we thank CJ for his contributions,” added Bennink. “Under his leadership, the North American business significantly improved its profitability, increased its rate of innovation and streamlined operations.  He contributed to the development of what we believe is a solid strategy for the future and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

"We have a talented, experienced and highly capable North American senior team, and I look forward to working with them to drive the business forward during this transition,” said Smits.

Smits joined Sara Lee as chief financial officer in October 2009 and was appointed chief executive officer in January 2011.

In January, the company announced its intention to split into two separate publicly-held companies – “CoffeeCo” (International Coffee & Tea) and “MeatCo” (North American Meats).  Last week, the company appointed Michiel Herkemij as chief executive officer of “CoffeeCo.”  Sarar Lee said it remains "on track" to execute the spin-off in the first half of calendar 2012.