Stewart Enterprises CEO Leaves, Cites Differences with Chairman

January 31, 2011
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imageThe chief executive of Stewart Enterprises Inc., the nation’s second-largest provider of funeral services, is retiring after citing differences with the company’s chairman and a desire to do missionary work.

The company said late Wednesday that president and CEO Thomas Crawford would retire at Stewart’s annual shareholder meeting on April 7. The board appointed Thomas Kitchen, Stewart’s senior executive vice president and chief financial officer, to succeed him.

The news comes shortly after Jefferson, La.,-based Stewart announced plans earlier Wednesday to consider possible acquisitions. It hired a funeral industry veteran, Glenn McMillen, to guide the process.

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The company said one reason for Crawford’s departure was his decision to accept a post presiding over 600 Mormon missionaries for a three-year term beginning July 1.

“Additionally Mr. Crawford notified the company that continued differences with the chairman of the board over the day-to-day implementation of the company’s strategic plan relating to the relative focus given to different components of the plan, staffing levels and personnel, contributed to his decision,” the company said in a statement.

Stewart did not elaborate on the differences. The chairman is Frank Stewart Jr.

Stewart currently owns and operates 218 funeral homes and 141 cemeteries in the United States. The company did not say how large it wanted a possible expansion of its business to be.

Kitchen joined Stewart’s board in February 2004 and became chief financial officer later that year and senior executive vice president in March 2007. He also served for a brief time as acting chief executive officer following the 2006 retirement of Kenneth Budde. Crawford became CEO in March 2007.

Louis Derbes, who has held top management posts with Stewart since 2005, was appointed chief financial officer, the company said.

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