Seattle-based pollock harvesting giant American Seafoods on Friday named a new chief executive officer to replace Mikel Durham, who is leaving the company to spend time with her family.

Einar Gustafsson, an executive with a lengthy resume in the food industry, will take on the CEO role and guide one of the largest fishing companies in the world through a turbulent time in the global economy and rapid change in the North Pacific seafood industry.

Gustafsson joins American Seafoods from Gong cha Global, the world's leading bubble tea chain, where he served as the CEO of Americas and Europe.

As part of the change, American Seafoods executive Inge Andreassen has been promoted to the newly created role of COO.

Andreassen, who has been with the group for 30 years, has served as president of the American Seafoods Company since 2005, a title he will continue to hold. He will serve as acting CEO until Gustafsson officially joins the company.

Prior to Gong cha, Gustafsson spent 15 years with fresh prepared foods group Bakkavor, spearheading the company's growth in Asia as the division's managing director.

Gustafsson's experience in seafood stretches back to an early stint with Coldwater Seafood in the early 1990s. He later took over as president and CEO of US scallop processor Atlantic Coast Fisheries Corporation as part of a turnaround operation.

At Atlantic Coast Fisheries, Gustafsson oversaw a merger with rival scallop processor Mar-Lees, creating one of the largest suppliers of the shellfish.

Following that, he was a part of the American Seafoods system, serving as vice president and general manager at value-added processing group American Pride Seafoods. High Liner acquired American Pride in 2013.

Scott Perekslis, a member of the American Seafoods board of directors and managing partner at private equity group Bregal Partners, which holds a stake in the harvesting company, said Gustafsson's track record developing and growing both seafood and the fresh foods businesses makes the executive a good fit for American's future.

In addition, Perekslis said, Gustafsson's history of building international brands "will be vital" in his new leadership role.

Flurry of activity under Durham

Durham joined American Seafoods as CEO in 2017, replacing longtime CEO and former majority owner Bernt Bodal, who retired from the group a year later.

During Durham's tenure, American went through a series of major changes. Most notably, the company announced in 2019 that Bregal would be seeking an exit of its shareholding as part of a planned sale.

Last year, the company's logistics subsidiaries came under scrutiny from the US Customs and Border Patrol agency for its use of what is known as The Bayside Program, a controversial route moving Alaska pollock and groundfish to the East Coast of the United States via Canada with the use of a miniature railway to satisfy a provision in the US Jones Act.

Durham said she was proud to represent the company and its employees through the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years, and is "looking forward to taking a break and spending some time with family.”

Bregal Partners led a complex recapitalization of American Seafoods in 2015. As part of that deal, a new ownership structure was brought into the group.

In addition to Bregal, American Seafoods' principal owners include Farallon Capital Management, credit asset management firm Onex Falcon, and Frank Dulcich, CEO of Pacific Seafood Group.

Other investors include members of American Seafoods management; Amy Humphreys, the former CEO of Icicle Seafoods and more recently the former CEO of BBNC's Bristol Bay Seafood Investments; and former Bumble Bee Seafoods CEO Chris Lischewski.

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