The statement cited family illness as the reason for Atkins’ resignation, effective Jan. 31. Until then, Atkins will help transition his responsibilities to vice president and deputy general counsel James Turoff, who will step in as acting general counsel until a replacement is found.
Atkins joined the Hershey, Pa-based company in 2018 after working as general counsel of electronics company Panasonic Corp.’s North America operations for three years. There he led the legal team during Panasonic’s $1 billion acquisition of the Hussman Corp. in 2016, according to his Hershey company profile. Atkins has also served as an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the legal industry.
He could not immediately be reached for comment on his move.
“In addition to his legal expertise, Damien has strengthened the partnership with our commercial operations and been a champion for talent development and inclusion in and outside of the company,” Hershey president and CEO Michele Buck said in the company’s statement.
Atkins is departing as Hershey faces a number of external challenges. Earlier this month, the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana accused Hershey and other similar chocolate companies of changing its cocoa-buying patterns to avoid $400-per-ton premiums on cocoa beans grown in West Africa. The premiums are said to benefit cocoa farmers, and those countries have since halted Hershey’s sustainability programs. Hershey has called the accusations misleading.
A competing candy company called Vampire Family Brands, LLC also sued Hershey last month for alleged trademark infringement. Hershey has not filed a response to the complaint, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hershey reported strong sales numbers in its third quarter earnings report, published Nov. 6. Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the company said it’s seen a 4% increase in sales from July to September compared to the same period last year.
Before his roles at Panasonic and Hersheys, Atkins worked for online services provider AOL and software company GridPoint, and he began his career with Chadbourne & Parke, which is now part of Norton Rose Fulbright. He is also the chair-elect of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.
In 2019, Atkins received a base salary of $577,500 from Hershey, a 10% increase from 2018 according to a proxy statement filed with the SEC. His total compensation was over $2.5 million.
Turoff, the new acting general counsel, joined Hershey in 2014 from industrial services company Harsco Corp, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Hershey said in the statement that it will conduct both an internal and external search for Atkins’ permanent replacement.