Brenda Barnes is to step down from her role as chairman and CEO of Sara Lee in order to focus on improving her health.

The firm announced today (9 August) that Brenda Barnes has also resigned from Sara Lee’s board of directors and will not stand for re-election at the company’s annual stockholders meeting in October.

Barnes, who has held the role of CEO for six years, had been on medical leave since 14 May after suffering a stroke.

The board of Sara Lee said it has now initiated a process to select a new CEO, looking at both internal and external candidates.

In the interim, Marcel Smits will continue as CEO and Mark Garvey will continue as interim CFO.

James Crown, an independent director, will remain chairman of the board, a role he assumed when Barnes’ leave of absence began.

“We fully support Brenda’s decision to step down as chairman and CEO so she can devote all of her time and energy toward improving her health,” said Crown. “She is a remarkable leader who is admired by those inside and outside of the Sara Lee family, and we fully understand and respect her decision. We will conduct a thorough process to identify a CEO successor in a timely manner, and look forward to sustaining the momentum begun under Brenda’s leadership.”