Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) has replaced nearly half of its 12-member board of directors, awarding seats to five individuals and naming a new chair. The incoming directors are veterans of either the retail, food, or finance sectors and include current Panera Bread chairman and CEO Ron Shaich and one-time Best Buy CFO Sharon McCollam.
Whole Foods also named a new chair of the board, Gabrielle Sulzberger. She has served as an independent director at the company since 2003.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said the new members "join a Board that is focused on being responsive to our shareholders and is committed to achieving the significant opportunities ahead."
Separately, Whole Foods announced it has named a new CFO. This is Keith Manbeck, who will take the reigns on May 17. He comes to the company from Kohl's (NYSE:KSS), where he served as senior vice president of digital finance, strategy management and business transformation. Manbeck is replacing outgoing CFO Glenda Flanagan.
Does it matter?
The large-scale board revamp seems to be an effort to show investors that Whole Foods is willing to change course. Perhaps more importantly, it also feels like a piece of stockholder politics, an attempt at keeping Jana Partners (the company's outspoken top activist investor) at bay for the moment.
As is typical with activists, Jana Partners -- which holds over 8% of the grocer -- is agitating for change at the company. Jana Partners had pressured Whole Foods to consider replacing some of its directors and to mull a possible sale.
There's every reason to think the investor will keep up that pressure, too. A revamped board won't immediately solve Whole Foods' core problem, which is that rivals have upped their game in the organic/natural comestibles space and cut into its business. Whole Foods' sales have been on the decline lately, with a consequent drop in stock price. The board shake-up probably won't do much to address that, but hopefully it will give the company some breathing room in what promises to be an escalating fight with its activists.