DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (AP) -- Sara Lee Corp. Chairman and CEO Brenda Barnes will step down permanently to focus on improving her health following a stroke in May, the food maker said Monday.
Barnes, 56, had been on temporary medical leave since May 14. She will also leave her position on Sara Lee's board of directors.
CFO Marcel Smits, who has been handling the CEO duties in her place, will continue to do so until a new CEO is named.
The food maker, based in Downers Grove, Ill., said its board has started a process to select a new CEO and is looking inside and outside of the company.
Sara Lee wished Barnes well in her recovery and thanked her for her contributions.
Barnes joined Sara Lee as president and chief operating officer in 2004. She became CEO in 2005. She has led the company, known for Jimmy Dean, Sara Lee, Hillshire Farm and other brands, through a restructuring, which shed unprofitable plants, jobs and units to focus on its core food business.
Barnes spent the bulk of her career, from 1976 to 1996, with PepsiCo Inc., and served as president and CEO of PepsiCola North America from 1996 to 1998. She also served as interim president and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts from late 1999 to early 2000.
Sara Lee is due to report its fourth-quarter results Thursday.