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New McCormick CEO once ran Zatarain's, international division

New McCormick CEO once ran Zatarain's, international division
Hunt Valley, Md -- 3/25/15 -- Alan Wilson, CEO of McCormick & Co., the Sparks-based spice maker, leads the annual meeting at Martin¿Äôs Valley Mansion.Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The new CEO of McCormick and Co. will have at least two things going for him when he takes over next year: As the former leader of Zatarain's, he already has CEO experience at a food company, and he currently oversees McCormick's international division, a major growth area for the Sparks-based spice maker.

Lawrence E. Kurzius, 57, will take over the top job from Alan D. Wilson on Feb. 1, the company announced Tuesday.

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"I am truly honored and excited about the opportunity to lead this great company," Kurzius said in a statement. "The future for McCormick is very promising and I look forward to working with all of our employees around the world."

McCormick did not make Kurzius or Wilson available for comment.

The promotion is seen as a thoughtfully planned transition that will keep the Fortune 1000 company founded in Baltimore in 1889 on an even keel.

"It's not like going outside and picking up somebody new," said Fred Katz, who ran the Wise line of potato chips and now teaches at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. "It's been that way for 50 years, that they've always promoted from within, and the employee has full knowledge of the business, which gives real stability to a transition like this."

Wilson, who has been CEO for eight years, will remain chairman of McCormick's board. Under his watch, the company's sales grew to $4.2 billion annually from $1 billion and its market capitalization doubled. It remains one of the largest companies headquarted in the Baltimore area.

"I am particularly excited about my successor," Wilson, 58, said in a statement. "He has a proven track record of delivering results and he understands and values the importance of continuing to grow the company while ensuring that McCormick remains a great place to work."

Kurzius joined Zatarain's in 1991 and became CEO in 1997. In 2003, McCormick acquired the company and Kurzius started out in its U.S. consumer foods division, quickly rising to head it. Before Zatarain's, Kurzius worked for Quaker Oats Co. and Uncle Ben's.

Wilson gave Kurzius responsibility for the company's international division in January. Spokeswoman Lori Robinson said Kurzius "was identified pretty early on in his career" as having leadership potential. He is currently president and chief operating officer.

Robinson said the two leaders were similar in that they were both hands-on with and accessible to employees. The company has about 2,400 employees in the Baltimore area and 10,000 around the world.

Kurzius is to receive a base salary of $900,000 and will be eligible for bonuses of up to 240 percent of his annual salary and other compensation, the company said in an SEC filing. Wilson was paid more than $10.2 million in fiscal 2014. The sum included a $1 million base salary, stock awards and other compensation.

McCormick's growth strategy in recent years has centered on acquisitions and overseas expansion. This year, the company picked up Italian spice maker Drogheria & Alimentari for $97 million; Brand Aromatics, a New Jersey maker of marinades, for $63 million; and Stubb's barbecue sauces of Texas for $100 million.

"They acquire a company that's well managed and has a good brand, and they keep it in place, and that's how Lawrence came to the company," said Karyl Leggio, a finance professor at Loyola University Maryland. "When you hire a successor from inside the company, you typically presume that things are going well, that they have developed leadership strengths. Of course, he'll do things in his own way — it's not Alan Jr. — but McCormick clearly values him."

Leggio said the company faces headwinds in keeping profits ahead of exchange rates overseas and in adapting itself to consumers' ever-shifting tastes.

McCormick recently considered moving, and scoped out sites in three states. After Maryland and Baltimore County offered $4 million in incentives to stay, Wilson announced in April that the company would stay. It's building a new headquarters in Hunt Valley.

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"I think it was a nice collaborative effort when we were negotiating a new site for them," said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. "The fact that Alan and the company reupped their relationship with Baltimore County suggests that they're satisfied with the business environment and the quality of life that we provide."

Mike Gill, Maryland's secretary of commerce, said he has known Wilson for two decades. He described Wilson as serious, deliberate and candid.

"Sometimes that means you have to tell people something that you might not want to hear or you might not expect, but individuals get better, they try harder," Gill said.

Gill said he was confident in McCormick's succession planning.

"I don't recall them ever blowing it," he said.

Kurzius is less well known than Wilson.

"We certainly look forward to getting to know Mr. Kurzius," Kamenetz said. Leggio, who said she met Kurzius briefly, said he seemed somewhat more reserved than Wilson.

R. Bentley Offutt, a Reisterstown-based analyst who has followed McCormick for decades, said Kurzius struck him as more marketing-oriented than Wilson, given his success in expanding Zatarain's.

"I think it's going to be a significant shift in the direction toward more intense marketing," Offutt said, and added: "I think that's what the company needs right now."

Offutt said Kurzius makes "a very strong first impression" and is an "aggressive" marketer. Wilson's strengths, he said, were in controlling costs and funneling the savings into acquisitions and new products.

Offutt said he believed Kurzius would help grow the company's revenues.

"When you talk to him you realize that he basically knows the opportunities that lie ahead for a product, and he's able to pursue those growth aspects," Offutt said.

Lawrence E. Kurzius

Title: President and COO of McCormick and Co.

Age: 57

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Education: A.B. in economics from Princeton University

Experience: Director, New Orleans Branch, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; marketing executive with the Quaker Oats Co. and Uncle Ben's Co.; president of Zatarain's; president of McCormick's U.S. consumer foods division; president of McCormick's Americas and China division and chief administrative officer

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