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Altria CEO Willard steps aside after COVID-19 diagnosis



Altria Group Inc.'s chief executive is handing the reigns to the company's chief operating officer (CFO) after contracting COVID-19.

According to a filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Altria chairman and CEO Howard Willard is taking a temporary leave of absence after receiving the confirmation. In connection with his leave of absence, the company's board of directors tapped vice chairman and CFO Billy Gifford to take over Willard's authority and responsibilities until the CEO returns.

Gifford has served in his roles since May 2018. He has been with Altria and its subsidiaries since 1994.

Altria is also temporarily hitting the pause button on operations at its Philip Morris USA's (PM USA) Manufacturing Center in Richmond. The company made the move "out of an abundance of caution" after a second PM USA employee tested positive for COVID-19.

The company expects work at the manufacturing center to take a two-week break, although PM USA will continue to monitor the evolving situation.

According to Altria, PM USA has actively implemented business continuity plans and believes it has sufficient finished goods cigarette inventory for approximately two months based on current estimated shipping volume, in addition to current wholesale and retail inventories.

Separately, some John Middleton Co. domestic operations will also be suspended for two weeks due to COVID-19 related supply chain constraints. Middleton believes it has sufficient finished goods cigar inventory for approximately three months based on current estimated shipping volume, in addition to current wholesale and retail inventories.

PM USA and Middleton are wholly owned subsidiaries of Richmond-based Altria.

"We are committed to protecting the safety and well-being of our employees, contractors, their families and the communities where we operate," Gifford said. "We take the threat of COVID-19 seriously and have been actively implementing plans to minimize business disruptions and their potential impact to our employees, consumers and customers."

During this temporary two-week suspension of plant operations, PM USA and Middleton will pay employees their regular base wages. PM USA and Middleton will evaluate providing additional pay continuation beyond that timeframe as needed, Altria said.

Altria continues to follow updates from public health authorities and implementing CDC-recommended precautions including travel restrictions, remote working, and social distancing.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

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