Reynolds announced just two days before British American's offer that Cameron, two years into her second stint leading the venerable American tobacco company would step down as CEO effective Jan. 1, transitioning to executive chairwoman and then serving as non-executive chairwoman come May.
"Yes, I am really retiring as CEO this time, and I have assured my husband that there will not be a third time," Cameron said on the conference call.
Cameron will be replaced by 45-year-old Debra Crew, president and COO of subsidiary R. J. Reynolds Tobacco. A U.S. Army captain, Crew joined Reynolds from PepsiCo (PEP - Get Report) in 2014. According to Cameron, Crew is also an experienced dealmaker; Cameron said her soon-to-be replacement "played a critical role in the very successful integration of Newport into R.J. Reynolds' brand portfolio and operation's footprint."
In June 2015, Reynolds closed on a $27.4 billion acquisition of Newport maker Lorillard. The deal required more than $7 billion in FTC divestitures and was, according to Cameron's LinkedIn profile, the largest deal ever undertaken by a female CEO.
While BAT owns 42% of Reynolds, Cameron has connections to the would-be buyer. According to data from TheStreet affiliate BoardEx, she was a longtime employee of BAT unit Brown & Williamson. From 1981 to 2004, Cameron worked in sales, marketing and executive roles there. That year, R.J. Reynolds agreed to merge its U.S. business with BAT's U.S. businesses, including Brown & Williamson, to create Reynolds American.
Brown & Williamson famously employed whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, former vice president of research and development, who told 60 Minutes in 1996 that his employer had manipulated the level of tobacco in its cigarettes.
Cameron, who turns 58 next Monday, told Time Magazine in 2010 that she joined Brown & Williamson because she wanted to work in "an industry whose products I personally enjoyed." She "narrowed it down to cosmetics, alcohol and tobacco" and has been in tobacco ever since, ultimately named CEO of Brown & Williamson in 2001. Then known as Susan Ivey, she'd served as senior vice president of marketing for two years.
She retired as Reynolds CEO the first time in October 2010, rejoined as a director in December 2013, and five months later was back as CEO again.
She's no stranger to large-scale M&A, either, having orchestrated the Lorillard deal.
Cameron knows the potential pitfalls of such deals. In 2011, she told the Winston-Salem Journal that she was proud to have "create[d] a culture that was forward-looking and energized, as well as productive and efficient and growing earnings in a very competitive marketplace" when combining Reynolds and Brown & Williamson. Doing so "has enabled Reynolds to compete successfully and profitably across the tobacco spectrum" and to complete even more deals, which she said often fail "because management ignores culture."
With a market capitalization of nearly $80 billion, Reynolds is the second-largest tobacco company in America after Philip Morris parent Altria Group (MO - Get Report) , at about $125 billion. In 2008 Altria spun off its international Philip Morris tobacco business from Philip Morris USA into a new company, Philip Morris International (PM - Get Report) .
The Winston-Salem, N.C. company's tortured history of M&A was made famous in the 1989 book Barbarians at the Gate. In 1985, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco merged with food company Nabisco Brands. The $5 billion deal created a $19 billion consumer products giant, RJR Nabisco. Three years later, in what was then the largest leveraged buyout in history, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR - Get Report) won a bidding war to take RJR Nabisco private for $25 billion. KKR floated the business in 1991 and unloaded its stake in 1995. Nabisco was sold to Altria for $19.2 billion, combined with Kraft Foods, spun off in 2007, and spun off again in 2011 into Mondelez (MDLZ - Get Report) .