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Philippines' Universal Robina appoints first outsider CEO

Expanding food and beverage group announces rare management reorganization

The reorganization at Universal Robina comes as the Gokongwei family is grooming Lance Gokongwei to become the next leader of JG Summit Holdings. (Photo by Lester Babiera)

MANILA -- Philippine food and beverage producer Universal Robina has appointed an outsider as its chief executive in a rare organizational shake-up in the company controlled by the influential Gokongwei family.

Irwin Lee will assume the CEO role starting May 14, becoming the first member outside of the family to hold that position. He replaces Lance Gokongwei, son of chairman emeritus and founder John Gokongwei, who will assume the position of chairman. Incumbent Chair James Go, John's younger brother, will become chairman emeritus, according to a stock exchange filing on Wednesday.

Lee is currently the CEO of Rustan Supercenters, an upscale grocery store chain that recently merged with Gokongwei-led Robinsons Retail Holdings. Lee previously held senior roles at McKinsey & Co. and Procter & Gamble as CEO for United Kingdom, Ireland and Northern Europe. His experience abroad could help Universal Robina's bid to become a global player.

Universal Robina, which has manufacturing facilities in Southeast Asia, has expanded in New Zealand and Australia in recent years.

The reorganization at Universal Robina comes as the Gokongwei family is grooming Lance to become the next leader of JG Summit Holdings, the family's listed holding company, under their succession plan.

Lance is currently the president and chief operating officer of JG Summit while his uncle serves as the chairman. A reorganization at the parent company could signal the completion of the succession plan.

JG Summit, the Philippines' third largest conglomerate by market capitalization, also has interests in real estate, airline, petrochemical and banking, and has equity investments in telecoms and power.

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