Bumble Bee Seafoods CEO Chris Lischewski has stepped down from his leadership position with the company, following his indictment on price-fixing charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday, 16 May. The company's chief operating officer, Jan Tharp, has stepped into the role of interim CEO in Lischewski's absence, effective immediately, Bumble Bee said on Friday, 25 May.
In a statement sent to SeafoodSource, Bumble Bee Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jill Irvin said Lischewski “has taken a leave of absence to defend himself from the accusations made against him.”
“Bumble Bee has succession plans in place in the event a member of the senior leadership team temporarily or permanently leaves their position,” she said. “Our Board of Directors worked diligently to ensure continuity in the Company’s leadership. Effective immediately, Jan Tharp, who has served as our Chief Operating Officer for the last six years, has assumed the role of Interim CEO of our organization. “
According to the indictment, Lischewski “knowingly joined and participated” in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition by fixing prices on packaged seafood sold in America. He and other unnamed co-conspirators held meetings and exchanged information on not just pricing data but sales, supply, demand, and production, the indictment alleged.
Lischewski’s attorney, John Keker, insists his client is innocent of the charges brought against him.
“When the facts are known and the truth emerges, Mr. Lischewski will be found not guilty, and that vindication will rightfully restore his good name,” Keker said.
Tharp, who holds dual MBAs from the business schools at Columbia University and the London Business School, worked at the H.J. Heinz Corporation between 1992 and 2000, including one year as the general manager of packaging engineering and procurement for StarKist’s pet products department (the Heinz Corporation owned StarKist until it sold the subsidiary in 2002 to Del Monte Foods).
Tharp rejoined StarKist as senior vice president of supply chain, operations, market share growth, and income generation for a two-year stint from 2008 through 2010. She then moved over to Bumble Bee, where she held positions of increasing seniority, moving from senior vice president of global operations, operation restructuring and quality improvement through 2012, to executive vice president and COO, with oversight over relationship development and global operations from 2012 through her appointment as interim CEO this week.
In her statement, Irvin said Bumble Bee replacing Lischewski with Tharp is part of an effort to respond to issues raised by the company’s involvement in the Department of Justice investigation – the company itself pleaded guilty in May 2017 to fixing the price of canned tuna between 2011 and 2013.
“As previously mentioned, we have implemented new guidelines and internal policies over the past year and a half as a result of this investigation, through the leadership of our Chief Compliance Officer,” Irvin said. “We are committed to act with integrity and transparency in every way we operate our business.”
Photo courtesy of USC Marshall School of Business