|Apr 26, 2002
New name, new CEO
BY JOHN REID BLACKWELL
Philip Morris Cos. Inc. shareholders voted overwhelmingly yesterday to change the tobacco, food and beer company's name to Altria Group Inc.
About 1,200 stockholders attended the company's annual meeting in Richmond, which also marked a change in leadership for the world's largest cigarette maker and owner of Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Co.
Shareholders offered two standing ovations and fond farewells to outgoing Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey C. Bible, who is retiring after eight years in the post.
Bible's successor as CEO, Louis C. Camilleri, called him "quite simply, one of the finest chief executives in the world," who "has steered this company through some of the most severe storms that any corporation has ever seen."
The board of directors elected Camilleri, 47, as CEO after the meeting. He has been employed by Philip Morris since 1978 and served as chief financial officer since 1996. Bible will remain chairman till he retires in August.
The proposal to change the parent company's name to Altria Group Inc. was approved by more than 95 percent of the shares that were voted, or 76 percent of the company's total outstanding shares eligible to vote.
The company hasn't said when it will put the new name into effect. Bible said the board of directors will decide on the timing.
The company said in November it wanted to change its name to Altria to better identify itself as a diversified consumer products company. Altria is derived from the Latin word altus, which means "high."
Tobacco industry critics claimed the company is changing its name to distance itself from its tobacco subsidiaries, Philip Morris USA and Philip Morris International, which will keep their names. Philip Morris USA is the Richmond area's second-largest private employer, with nearly 6,700 workers.
"Their image has become so tarnished that they have had to change their name," said Patti Lynn, a spokeswoman for the corporate watchdog group Infact, which held a protest outside that included college students from across the country and a group of grade-school children from Chicago.
Even some staunch supporters of the company seemed ambivalent about the name change. One shareholder got applause during the meeting when he said he was proud of the company's tobacco business and the new name sounded "meaningless."
"This is still a tobacco company that happens to own some food companies, and there are a lot of us that work hard to make the tobacco company so successful," said the man, who did not identify himself.
Overseeing his final annual meeting, Bible said little about his 34-year career with the company, but he praised Camilleri as "one of the most brilliant, energetic, incisive corporate officers in America."
He also defended the company against critics who charged that Philip Morris is still marketing cigarettes to minors in overseas markets and undermining government efforts to regulate the industry.
"If you change your name, then will you also change your practices around the world?" asked Anna White, coordinator of the Washington-based Global Partnership for Tobacco Control.
"We have done a great deal around the world to introduce change into the tobacco industry," Bible said.
Contact John Reid Blackwell at (804) 775-8123 or email@example.com
This story can be found at :