SAN FRANCISCO – Clorox Co. (CLX) has lured away Coca-Cola Co. (KO) executive Donald Knauss to guide its household products bazaar, filling a void created after its previous chief executive suffered a heart attack earlier this year.
The Oakland, Calif.-based company announced Knauss' hiring as its new CEO late Wednesday, shortly after Coca-Cola disclosed Knauss was stepping down as the president of its North American unit.
Clorox had been hunting for a new chief executive since Gerald Johnston retired from the job in May, two months after a heart attack. A Clorox board member, Robert Matschullat, had been serving as the company's chairman and CEO on an interim basis.
"Don has a depth of experience in the consumer products industry, and he is perfectly suited for Clorox in our drive to grow our business," Matschullat said. "He has a great, no-nonsense style that's well suited to the Clorox culture."
Knauss, 55, is taking over a 93-year-old company that initially became well known for its bleach before expanding into other areas of the household. Clorox also makes Glad bags, Armor All auto products, Hidden Valley salad dressings, Liquid-Plumr, K.C. Masterpiece briquets, and Formula 409.
The product mix has been a consistent moneymaker for Clorox, which earned $444 million on revenue of $4.6 billion in its last fiscal year ending June 30. The company's sales climbed 6 percent from the previous year, mostly because Clorox raised its prices in the United States on about half its products to offset its rising commodity costs.
Despite its size, Clorox has long been overshadowed in the household product arena by its former parent, Procter & Gamble Co., which has annual revenue of $68 billion. Cincinnati-based P&G bought Clorox in 1957 and retained ownership until a 1969 spin-off. Unilever PLC, with about $48 billion in annual revenue, also dwarfs Clorox.
Knauss oversaw an even larger operation than Clorox in his most recent last job at Coca Cola, whose North American business generated about $7 billion in revenue last year.
"Clorox is strongly positioned to grow, which I find very exciting," Knauss said in a statement. "It is also very important to me that Clorox has a corporate culture of driving results while respecting others."
Clorox would have made even more money last year, if not for a $25 million charge in its most recent quarter to correct previous errors in its accounting for employee stock options dating back to 1996. The charge represented a sliver of the roughly $4.4 billion in profits that have piled up at Clorox during the past decade.
Dozens of other companies that either already have revising or considering making changes to previous financial statements to adjust for the improper accounting of stock options granted years ago. When it acknowledged its mistakes earlier this month, Clorox said it hadn't found any evidence of financial fraud.
Knauss is leaving Coca-Cola after a 12-year stint at the Atlanta-based beverage maker. He had spent the past 2 1/2 years running the North American operations.
Coca-Cola named J. Alexander M. "Sandy" Douglas Jr. to replace Knauss. Douglas had been a Coke senior vice president and chief customer officer.