W.R. Grace CEO Fred Festa to retire next year

W.R. Grace & Co. announced Friday that CEO Fred Festa will retire toward the end of next year from the Columbia-based chemicals and materials company.

Festa, who became CEO is 2005, guided the company through a long criminal case related to its asbestos mine in Libby, Mont., and out of its nearly 13-year asbestos-related bankruptcy in 2014. He will step down in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Appearing to set up executive succession, W.R. Grace also said that Hudson La Force, its president and chief operating officer, has been elected as a director of the company. Formerly the chief financial officer, La Force became president in 2016.

Festa will remain as non-executive chairman.

“Fred has led the company through one of the most challenging periods in its history,” said Chris Steffen, lead independent director, in a written statement. “He led us out of bankruptcy, made several significant acquisitions, and repositioned our portfolio by spinning off our former construction chemicals and packaging businesses, all while increasing the company’s profitability and positioning it for a successful future.”

W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 as asbestos-related claims mounted against the company. The case became one of the longest-running bankruptcies in U.S. history. When the company emerged in early 2014, it set aside $4 billion in trust for asbestos victims.

In 2005, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the company and several former and current executives for endangering residents of Libby, Mont., where its asbestos mine was located, and concealing its adverse health effects. The company, which argued it complied with the laws of the time, was acquitted in 2009, even as the company paid medical bills for many Libby residents.

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