Philip Morris appoints new chief executive

Change comes as the world's largest listed tobacco company seeks to expand in China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 March, 2013, 3:32am

Philip Morris International named Andre Calantzopoulos as chief executive, replacing Louis Camilleri, as the world's largest publicly traded tobacco company works to expand in China and develop new products.

Calantzopoulos, who also was nominated for election to the board, will take the helm after the annual meeting of shareholders on May 8, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes said in a statement.

Camilleri would remain chairman of the board, Philip Morris said.

Calantzopoulos takes charge five years after Philip Morris was spun off from Altria, enabling it to accelerate acquisitions and expand into emerging markets.

He and Camilleri introduced new varieties of Marlboro into Russia, the world's second-largest cigarette market, to boost its global share of tobacco sales to a record 28.8 per cent last year, excluding the United States and China.

"The move recognises the increasing role that Andre has played after he and Louie worked together to gain market share," said Tom Russo, a partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner.

As executive chairman, Camilleri would have more time to focus on "the big imponderables" for the company, such as boosting sales in China and developing next-generation products less harmful than cigarettes, Russo said.

He would give up the day-to-day responsibilities for "stacking high and selling more" cigarettes that he had shared with Calantzopoulos, he said. "I'm glad we get to keep both."

Camilleri has served as chief executive of Philip Morris and its former parent for 11 years.

The company's shares have risen 83 per cent since March 17, 2008, when Philip Morris was spun off, compared with a 22 per cent gain for the S&P 500 Index.

Camilleri said at a conference in November last year that China and Vietnam represented "untapped growth opportunities" and an "exciting future of next generation products".

China is the world's largest tobacco consumer. Cigarette sales in China will expand an average of 13.5 per cent a year to reach two trillion yuan (HK$2.5 trillion) by 2016, according to London-based Euromonitor International.

The company's sales tumbled in Europe in the fourth quarter as the region's debt crisis and high unemployment prompted smokers to cut back or switch to hand-rolling tobacco.

Calantzopoulos has served as Philip Morris' chief operating officer since 2008. He joined the company in 1985, working across central Europe, and became chief executive of the international division in 2002.

The company has boosted its dividend each year for a total increase of 85 per cent from the spin-off until last year. It has returned more than US$50 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buy-backs during that period, according to the statement.