Sara Lee's Brenda BarnesSara Lee (SLE) CEO Brenda Barnes will step down permanently from her position as chairman and chief executive officer so she can continue to focus on improving her health, the company announced Monday. Barnes had been on temporary medical leave since May 14 after suffering a stroke.

Marcel Smits will continue as interim chief executive officer and Mark Garvey will continue as interim chief financial officer of the food company. Meanwhile, the board will seek permanent replacements.

Barnes has also resigned from the board of directors and will not stand for re-election. James Crown, an independent director, will remain chairman of the board, a role he assumed when Barnes' leave of absence began.

"We fully support Brenda's decision to step down as Chairman and CEO so she can devote all of her time and energy toward improving her health," said Crown. "We will conduct a thorough process to identify a CEO successor in a timely manner, and look forward to sustaining the momentum begun under Brenda's leadership."

On Barnes's performance, Crown added that "During Brenda's six-year tenure as CEO, she successfully transformed Sara Lee into a strong global food and beverage company with a focused portfolio of leading brands." Indeed, Barnes sold off many of the company's businesses to focus on its food and beverage assets. She also managed to boost margins with operational improvements and costs cuts even during the tough economic times.

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