Nestle SA nominated a 53-year-old Belgian on Thursday to take over as its next chief executive, ending Peter Brabeck-Letmathe's control of the world's biggest food and drinks company.
Paul Bulcke, who currently heads Nestle's business in the Americas, will replace Brabeck as CEO in April, pending shareholder approval, the company said. Brabeck-Letmathe, 62, will remain as chairman of the board.
Bulcke joined Nestle in 1979. His appointment came as a surprise to some insiders, who had tipped Paul Polman, the company's chief financial officer, to win the post.
Brabeck first joined Nestle as an ice cream salesman four decades ago, rising steadily through the ranks to become CEO in 1997.
He became chairman of the board in 2005, sparking criticism from a number of Nestle shareholders for breaking with the traditional practice of keeping the two key posts separate and preventing any one executive from holding too much power.
The company, which employs around a quarter of a million people worldwide and claims to operate in every territory apart from North Korea, is expected to report sales above 100 billion Swiss francs (US$85 billion; EUR61 billion) this year.
Bulcke would take over immediately if approved at the next annual general meeting on April 10.