The president of Jab Holdings, the hungry owner of Pret A Manger and Keurig Dr Pepper, resigned after a $ 50 billion spree that led to a split with his two partners on the scale of the investment group's dealmaking.
According to two people with a direct knowledge of his decision, Bart Becht, a 60-year-old executive in the consumer industry, resigned after failing to convince JAB to downplay his acquisition ambitions to focus on improving operations in his vast portfolio of companies.
Following the resignation of Mr. Becht, whom JAB has termed as retirement, will also be stepping down from eight boards of directors of the JAB portfolio companies, including two presidencies.
The shock is the first external demonstration of tensions within the JAB, which was created to manage the wealth of the German family Reimann, billionaire and mediator.
The loss of Mr Becht, who is highly regarded for operational competence after a period of 12 years at the helm of the UK home equity group Reckitt Benckiser, could turn out to be a jab for JAB at a key its development.
The investment vehicle, once obscure, has become part of the most important consumer product groups through acquisitions of high-profile US brands such as Krispy Kreme, owner of Peet's Coffee and Covery, Coty, in direct competition with industry giants like Nestle and Coca-Cola in coffee and L'Oreal in make-up.
Some observers have criticized its tendency to overpay for acquisitions.
JAB Holdings will now be managed by the two remaining partners: Peter Harf, trusted confidant of the Reimann, and Olivier Goudet, the former CEO of Mars, who is also chairman of AB InBev. According to the people informed about the fall, Goudet was pushing to do more business and growing assets under management.
The working relationship between the three men had deteriorated lately, according to two people close to them, while the tensions of JAB's rapid expansion began to weigh. The workaholic Mr. Becht also felt the desire to take a step back from the intense daily activities, according to one of the people. Once the desire to leave was expressed, the three agreed that the departure was the best move.
"After almost 40 years in the branded consumer sector, I decided it's time to refocus my activities and retire," Becht said in a statement. "It was a huge privilege and a pleasure to work with JAB and the many people in the companies of his portfolio and I wish them continued success".
A person who worked closely with JAB described Becht's decision as "undoubtedly a surprise", especially since the executive trio had only recently raised money from outside investors and launched itself as long-term investors.
JAB works in a similar way to a private equity investor, but with much longer time horizons. He is often willing to own portfolio companies for decades, often planning to expand through acquisitions. It has raised more than € 5 billion for its JAB consumer fund since 2017 and is increasingly relying on the Reimann family's external funds to expand.
Fundraising also coincided with a change in strategy, as JAB abandoned investments in luxury and fashion to focus on what defines premium food and drinks, informal meals and coffee.
The recent problems with the cosmetics company Coty, one of JAB's oldest investments, have become a reputation for expert connoisseurs.
Coty shares have fallen 60% in the last two years as it has struggled to digest a large acquisition from Procter & Gamble in 2016 supported by Becht. The decline led to a loss of 1.3 billion euro from the JAB portfolio in the six months to 30 June, bringing the assets under management to 23.3 billion euro in the same period.
Coty's problems were emblematic of why Mr. Becht wanted the JAB to focus on fewer investments to ensure operations went smoothly, said one of the people familiar with his thinking.
To support its future growth, JAB also announced the recruitment of three new members, all of whom are veterans of the food and beverage industry, bringing the total to 8 partners working under Mr. Harf and Mr. Goudet.
They are Fabien Simon, a coffee expert and former manager of Mars who will be the financial director of JAB, Ricardo Rittes, a Brazilian accused of expansion in emerging markets, and Jacek Szarzynski, another veteran of Mars, who will focus on the casual activities of JAB.