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Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, announced on Wednesday that he will become executive chair and will hand over CEO responsibilities to president Curtis Frank by next year’s annual meeting.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Michael McCain is stepping down as chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. MFI-T after 27 years at the helm of Canada’s largest meat producer, handing the top job to president Curtis Frank.

The 63-year-old Mr. McCain and his family, backed by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, acquired Maple Leaf in 1995 from a British holding company and transformed a collection of regional businesses into a leading North American food producer, with 13,500 employees at 21 facilities. On his watch, Maple Leaf’s market capitalization more than tripled to $3.5-billion.

Mr. McCain became a household name in 2008, when listeria from a Toronto plant contaminated its products and more than 20 people died. He earned respect for personally taking responsibility for the crisis.

Mr. McCain was also an early and committed champion of sustainability and the building of a purpose-driven corporate culture. In an interview on Wednesday, he said his proudest moment as CEO came in 2019, when Maple Leaf became the first major food company in the world to be carbon neutral. Mr. McCain said: ”Compared to the largest U.S. producers, we’re the equivalent of a corner store. However, across the industry, we are recognized as leaders on sustainability.”

Canada is facing a ‘terrible’ food crisis, says Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain

On Wednesday, Mr. McCain announced he will become executive chair and will hand over CEO responsibilities to Mr. Frank by next year’s annual meeting.

Mr. Frank joined Maple Leaf as a management trainee 22 years ago, rose through the sales side of the business and was named president and chief operating officer in 2018. Mr. McCain said timing of the transition will be driven by completion of a few specific projects, including opening a new $660-million chicken processing plant in London, Ont. He said: “This is a planned and purposeful succession.”

“While I will be stepping down as CEO, and removing myself from the day-to-day activity, my efforts as executive chair will shift into a new capacity more heavily oriented to strategy, stewardship, oversight and guidance” Mr. McCain said in a speech at the Mississauga-based company’s annual meeting.

“The McCain family is not going anywhere,” said Mr. McCain, whose 39 per cent stake in the company is worth approximately $1.3-billion. “We have deep roots in the food industry and in this business, and we are fully committed to Maple Leaf from my generation to the next.”

Maple Leaf is well-positioned for future growth, according to analysts. The company reported financial results on Wednesday, with sales of $1.1-billion in the first three months of 2022, up 7 per cent from the previous year, and profit down 71 per cent to $13.7-million, a drop that reflected supply chain and pandemic issues. In a report, George Doumet at Scotiabank said: “Despite some near-term noise, we expect structural improvements in margins (ramp-up of bacon and poultry facilities and the rightsizing to break-even at the plant segment) to continue.”

Maple Leaf is one of North America’s largest poultry and pork producers – it processed 108 million chickens and turkeys last year, along with four million pigs – and is a market leader in producing plant-based proteins. In 2018, Maple Leaf invested in Norwood, Ont.-based Entomo Farms, North America’s largest producer of insects for human consumption.

Maple Leaf marked a second career for Mr. McCain, previously a senior executive at family-owned French-fry maker McCain Foods Ltd. Mr. McCain and his father Wallace left the Florenceville, N.B. business in 1995 after a dispute over succession with Mr. McCain’s uncle, Harrison.

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