WASHINGTON — President Bush today named Carlos Gutierrez, the chief executive officer of Kellogg Co., to be his next secretary of commerce, Bush’s first public move in a drive to reshape his second-term economic team.
A native of Cuba, Gutierrez, 51, would succeed Don Evans, a Texas oilman and longtime Bush friend who is returning to the Lone Star state after serving as commerce secretary during the entire first term.
In announcing Gutierrez’s appointment, Bush called the cereal company chief “a visionary executive” and “one of America’s most respected business leaders.”
When the new Congress convenes in January, Gutierrez, if confirmed by the Senate, would join a closely-knit Bush Cabinet and become perhaps one of its more prominent outsiders as the president seeks to restructure the financing of Social Security and enact additional major changes in tax laws.
Like some other members of the president’s inner circle, Gutierrez comes with a compelling life story- “a great American success story,” as Bush put it during the White House announcement.
Gutierrez was six when Fidel Castro’s forces took control of Cuba and stranded Gutierrez’s family in Miami, where they were vacationing.
“He learned English from a bellhop at a Miami hotel,” Bush said.
Gutierrez joined Kellogg as truck driver in 1975 in Mexico City and went on to work all over the world for the Battle Creek, Mich.-based company. He became its chief executive officer in April, 1999 and the firm’s chairman a year later. He and his wife, Edilia, have three children.
“We never imagined that this country would give me this great opportunity,” Gutierrez said after Bush announced his appointment. “I believe passionately in your leadership and the direction you’ve set.”
Gutierrez is the first new member of Bush’s economics team for his second term. Bush’s chief economics adviser, Stephen Friedman, announced last week that he was leaving. Other changes also are anticipated.
At Kellogg, Gutierrez is credited with shaping a major corporate and marketing overhaul, narrowing the company’s primary focus to cereal and wholesome snacks while reducing its debt.
Under Gutierrez, Kellogg’s net sales rose from $6.2 billion in 1999 to $8.8 billion last year, a 43% increase. Earnings per share increased 131%, from 83 cents to $1.92, and cash flow went up 82%, from $529 million to $961 million.
The company today named marketing executive James M. Jenness to succeed Gutierrez, Associated Press reported.