Taking the Reins: Herbalife exec John Agwunobi will become CEO in March.

Taking the Reins: Herbalife exec John Agwunobi will become CEO in March. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Downtown-based Herbalife Nutrition Ltd. has chosen insider John Agwunobi as its next chief executive, effective in March 2020.

Agwunobi, 54, is co-president and chief health and nutrition officer for the nutrition products distribution company. He fills the post previously occupied by Richard Goudis, who resigned in January over alleged and unspecified inappropriate comments.

Michael Johnson, Herbalife’s chairman, has been serving as interim chief executive.

Herbalife’s Oct. 29 announcement also said John DeSimone, 52, co-president and chief strategic officer, will become the company’s sole president, also effective in March.

Herbalife shares rose 10% on initial news of the planned management changes, reaching nearly $45 on Oct. 30. The stock has remained near that level since, closing on Nov. 13 at $43.80.

Agwunobi, a native of Scotland, received his medical training in Nigeria before coming to the United States.

He served as Florida’s secretary of health in the early 2000s under Gov. Jeb Bush; he then joined the administration of Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, as assistant secretary of health from 2005 to 2007.

Agwunobi joined Herbalife in 2016 as chief health and nutrition officer, adding the co-president title last year.

“I am incredibly excited about the opportunities ahead for Herbalife Nutrition,” Agwunobi said in the announcement. “Thanks to the dedication and commitment of our independent distributors and employees, we are changing millions of people’s lives by helping them improve their nutrition with proven, great-tasting products and personalized support, while also providing our distributors the opportunity to be an entrepreneur.”

Agwunobi was traveling overseas last week and was not available for further comment.

DeSimone is a corporate finance veteran. Prior to joining Herbalife, he served as chief financial officer of publicly traded Rexall Sundown Inc., a multinational manufacturer of nutritional supplements and sports nutrition products.

Herbalife was founded in Los Angeles in 1980 and has grown into an international company with 8,900 employees and an extensive network of individual distributors operating in more than 90 countries. The company reported $4.9 billion in revenue in 2018.

Goudis became chief executive in June 2017. In January, the company announced Goudis’ resignation, saying that prior to becoming chief executive, he made comments that were contrary to the company’s business practices and culture. The company did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 30, activist investor Carl Icahn filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing that his stake in Herbalife rose during the third quarter to nearly 24% from 22.4% as the overall number of Herbalife shares outstanding decreased. Icahn waged a share battle with another activist investor, William Ackman, who shorted Herbalife stock and publicly claimed the company’s business model represented a pyramid scheme.

Ackman gave up his battle last year as he sold off most of his stake in the company. Icahn had a 26% stake in Herbalife as of early last year but sold off shares in May 2018.

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