As president and CEO, Thomas succeeds Kazuyoshi (Kaz) Watanabe, who has headed Miller Milling for five years, since the business was acquired by Nisshin Seifun Group. Watanabe will return to Japan and serve as an executive at Nisshin and as a member of the Miller Milling board of directors. With Watanabe’s departure from the United States, Akihiko Imanishi will join Miller Milling from Nisshin in Japan as a senior vice-president.
Announcing the succession, Nisshin expressed appreciation for Watanabe’s leadership in the United States and continued service at Nisshin and called Thomas a “very strong leader.” Nisshin said the transition occurs with Miller Milling “in a strong position.”
“Jeff has a track record of strong leadership both inside and outside of the company,” Miller Milling said. “This, combined with his industry knowledge and institutional tenure makes Jeff uniquely qualified to lead Miller Milling into the future.”
Thomas joined Miller Milling in May 2014 when the company acquired four U.S. flour mills — in Saginaw, Texas, U.S.; Oakland, California, U.S..; Los Angeles, California, U.S.; and New Prague, Minnesota, U.S. — in connection with the formation of Ardent Mills by ConAgra Mills, Cargill and CHS, Inc. At the time, Thomas was the manager of the ConAgra mill at Saginaw.
A 1994 graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in milling science from the Department of Grain Science and Industry, Thomas spent 16 years in milling operations at ConAgra. He held positions at ConAgra Mills in Alton, Illinois, U.S.; Denver, Colorado, U.S.; Macon, Georgia, U.S.; Oakland, California, U.S.; Sherman, Texas, U.S.; and Saginaw, Texas, U.S. He had been plant manager of Saginaw since 2010. He was promoted to vice-president of operations and relocated to Bloomington in October 2015.
Miller Milling, the fourth largest flour milling company in the United States, has been owned by Nisshin for five years. In addition to the four mills acquired in 2014, Miller Milling operates mills in Fresno, California, U.S., and Winchester, Virginia, U.S. Miller Milling has 107,600 cwts of combined flour milling and durum milling daily production capacity. The company currently is expanding the Saginaw mill with an addition that will increase capacity by 10,000 cwts. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.