Fraleigh, became the CEO for the companys North American business in 2009

Fraleigh, became the CEO for the company's North American business in 2009

Sara Lee has today (12 September) confirmed that the CEO of its North America operations, CJ Fraleigh, has resigned from the company.

The surprise announcement hit Sara Lee's shares, which were down 1.45% at US$17.02 at 12:26 ET.

Fraleigh, who had worked for Sara Lee since 2005, became the CEO for the company's North American business in 2009. He had been touted as a possible candidate for the top job at Sara Lee when Brenda Barnes retired for health reasons last year but the company appointed Marcel Smits as chief executive.

However, Fraleigh had been lined up to be CEO of one of the two companies to be created from Sara Lee's plans to split the business in two. Fraleigh was set to become CEO of the company's North American grocery and foodservice operations, which was to be spun off from the rest of the business but keep the Sara Lee name.

Nevertheless, Fraleigh has now left Sara Lee, although the company said he will be "available" to Smits, who will temporaily head its North American operations until a replacement is found.

"CJ played an important role in taking the North American business to this stage in its development," Sara Lee chairman Jan Bennink said. "We now believe that a different approach is needed to transition the North American business into a pure-play company."

Bennink added: "Under his leadership, the North American business significantly improved its profitability, increased its rate of innovation and streamlined operations. He contributed to the development of what we believe is a solid strategy for the future and we wish him well in his future endeavours."

A spokesman for Sara Lee refused to be drawn on whether Fraleigh's departure was due to a difference of opinion over the move towards dividing the company in two.

However, the spokesman insisted Sara Lee was "on track to complete spin in the first half of the calendar year 2012" in line with its plans.