New Leadership for Altria

Szymanczyk to step down after 23 years at company

Michael Szymanczyk, Martin Barrington, David Beran

RICHMOND, Va. -- The end of Altria Group Inc.'s annual shareholder meeting on May 17 will also mark the end of an era for the tobacco company. At that time, Michael Szymanczyk will retire as chairman and CEO, and Martin Barrington will step into the role. David Beran will serve as Altria's president and chief operating officer.

Symanczyk, 63, has worked for the company for 23 years, including four years as chairman and CEO of Altria and 12 years as president and CEO of Philip Morris USA.

"I believe the company is well-positioned to continue to prosper," Symanczyk said during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call on Friday. "As I near retirement, now is the time to transition leadership to people of an age to guide the company through its next phase of growth."

Szymanczyk also reflected on his tenure, saying he has seen three economic downturns--with the last being the most severe. He said the company has gotten better at dealing with running premium brands in that kind of environment and continuing to give stable, consistent returns to shareholders.

Going forward, he said, the challenges will continue to be competitive, marketplace, economic, regulatory and legal risks. "They're not new news, nor are they unknown. They're pretty much the same ones and have been around for a bit now, and that we have had pretty successful track record in managing."

As reported in a Morgan Keegan/CSP Daily News Flash on Friday, Barrington, 58, who was immediately placed on Altria's board, has held various roles in the Altria family of companies since 1993, including, most recently, vice chairman.

"It is a real honor to follow Mike Szymanczyk in this role," Barrington said in a company statement. "He has led the company with exceptional skill, commitment and passion through Altria's reshaping, including the expansion and diversification of Altria's tobacco platform into the cigar and smokeless tobacco businesses."

Beran, 57, joined the Altria family of companies in 1976 and has held leadership positions in finance, operations, planning and information, market research and marketing, most recently as vice chairman responsible for business operations.

Analyst consensus indicates that the change likely would occur without incident, with Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo Securities LLC expecting a "smooth transition," according to a research note, aided by a consulting agreement with Szymanczyk through January 2014.

In a separate research note, Christina McGlone of Deutsche Bank said Barrington is "well-known to investors, and we think this is a logical progression."

McGlone added that Barrington's long history and past title of general counsel at Altria implies "evolution not revolution," and "also highlights increasing importance of FDA/regulatory affairs."

Altria directly or indirectly owns 100% of each of PM USA, USSTC, Middleton, Ste. Michelle and PMCC. Altria holds a continuing economic and voting interest in SABMiller. The brand portfolios of Altria's tobacco operating companies include such well-known names as Marlboro, Copenhagen, Skoal and Black & Mild. Ste. Michelle produces and markets premium wines sold under various labels, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, and it exclusively distributes and markets Antinori, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and Villa Maria Estate products in the United States.