On Friday, Altria Group (NYSE:MO), the leading U.S. tobacco company, announced that Chairman and CEO Howard Willard was  stepping down following his recovery from coronavirus. His retirement was effective as of April 14.

Willard, who had worked for Altria for 28 years and led it since May 2018, is being succeeded by Vice Chairman and CFO Billy Gifford, who has held various roles throughout the company in his own 25-year tenure. Salvatore Mancuso, who has been with the company for 29 years, was selected by the board to fill the role of CFO.

Man smoking.

Image source: Getty images.

The board has opted to split the roles of chairman and CEO, and elected Thomas Farrell to serve as independent chairman of the board effective April 16.

Continuing the vision

Farrell acknowledged the change in direction that Altria has taken over the years, saying: "The Board thanks Howard for his nearly 30 years of distinguished service to Altria and for helping to set the course for Altria's 10-year vision to responsibly lead the transition of adult smokers to a non-combustible future."

Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro, Parliament, and other cigarette brands. It also owns Nat Sherman, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., John Middleton, and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

The company has had to take major steps to comply with Federal Drug Administration guidelines on educating smokers about the risks of smoking and providing alternatives. Given that, as the FDA affirms, the real dangers to smokers lie in the smoke and the many carcinogenic chemicals it contains, as opposed to the nicotine itself, Altria's main options lie in non-combustible products. Willard had set out a vision to lead the company in that direction. "We have long said that providing adult smokers with superior, satisfying products with the potential to reduce harm is the best way to achieve tobacco harm reduction," he said.