Ingredion CEO is latest Chicago-area female CEO to leave post

Ingredion CEO Ilene Gordon will retire from the company next year, further thinning the ranks of top female executives of large corporations in the Chicago area.

Gordon will conclude an eight-plus-year run in which she realigned the Westchester-based global ingredients company with changing consumer tastes and positioned it for growth. When Gordon joined the company, shares sold for about $25. On Monday, they closed at $125.59, up 75 cents from Friday.

As with CEO Irene Rosenfeld of Deerfield-based Mondelez International, who announced her own retirement last month, Gordon will be replaced by a man. Jim Zallie, 56, currently executive vice president of global specialties and president of the Americas business for Ingredion, will take over as CEO Jan. 1.

Gordon, 64, will serve as executive chairman of Ingredion's board of directors until she retires in July 2018.

"The responsibility of the board is to select the most qualified candidate to lead the company," Gordon said Monday. "We feel very confident that Jim is the right person to lead Ingredion forward."

With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, Zallie was president and CEO of the New Jersey-based National Starch before Ingredion — then known as Corn Products International — acquired his company in 2010. He's since helped grow the business of specialty starch ingredients globally, Gordon said.

"I appreciate Ilene's support and counsel over the years. She has been an insightful adviser, fearless leader and champion of Ingredion's values and mission," Zallie said in the company's news release Monday.

There are 32 female CEOS of Fortune 500 companies this year, meaning that 6.4 percent of the largest companies in the U.S. are run by women, according to Fortune's annual list. That's up from 21 female CEOs last year, according to Fortune. Gordon and Rosenfeld are both longtime fixtures on the list.

"I'm a big believer in building the pipeline and we will get there. You will see more women as leaders of Fortune 500 companies," Gordon said.

Ingredion has worked in recent years on "building the pipeline" for women and minorities to ascend to leadership positions, Gordon said. Half of the external hires for senior positions were women last year, she said, up from previous years.

Ana Dutra, president and CEO of The Executives' Club of Chicago, noted that Gordon was also the first female chairman of The Executives' Club and still serves on the board. Dutra said she had "tremendous respect" for Gordon.

"At the end of the day, you have to choose the right candidate at the time. ... What I think is that we all need to fight for more women to be developed for leadership positions," Dutra said.

Megan Kashner, clinical assistant professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said it's too early to say whether the increase this year in female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies is a trend reflecting any real progress.

And Kashner said the retirements of Gordon and Rosenfeld don't necessarily reflect the opposite.

Choosing a CEO for a Fortune 500 company is a process with many stakeholders — including board members and shareholders — that lends itself to conservative decision-making, Kashner said.

"With that many cooks in the kitchen, there's a tendency to stick with what is known," Kashner said.

Ingredion used to be known for making high fructose corn syrup, the ubiquitous sweetener that some consumers have turned against in recent years. Since Gordon came aboard in 2009, the company has diversified its portfolio of ingredients through acquisitions and developing new products.

Ingredion reported about $5.7 billion in revenue last year.

After the acquisition of National Starch, Gordon rebranded the company and repositioned it as a global ingredient-maker that's increasingly working with large food and beverage companies to evolve with changing consumer trends.

Ingredion did not report any changes to compensation Monday in connection with the succession planning.

Gordon made about $10.3 million in total compensation last year, according to Ingredion's proxy statement filed in April. Zallie made about $3 million.

gtrotter@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @GregTrotterTrib

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