Chairman’s decision comes as a surprise
Fonterra farmers in Waikato are hoping one of three homegrown directors on the board of the dairy giant will be considered as new chairman to succeed Sir Henry van der Heyden, who steps down next year.
Waikato Federated Farmers president James Houghton is one who hopes Jim van der Poel, Ian Farrelly and John Wilson will be considered for the top job.
Mr Wilson, who farms at Te Awamutu, is the only Waikato director to figure in a three-name shortlist favoured by well-informed sources. The other two are large-scale corporate dairy farmer Colin Armer and outside chance, John Monaghan from Wairarapa, a former chairman of the watchdog Fonterra Shareholders Council.
Mr Van der Heyden, 54, surprised shareholders of the farmer-owned cooperative by announcing he intended to step aside one year earlier than expected.
Also surprisingly, he told farmer-shareholders in an email obtained by the Waikato Times that he had only stood for election for another three-year term last year to ‘‘provide stability during transition to a new chief executive’’.
He said veteran Australasian businessman Sir Ralph Norris would join the board as a non-farmer director in May.
Mr Van der Heyden would not say when his successor would be named but he ruled out stepping down before 2012’s annual meeting.
He will have headed Fonterra for 10 years and have helped lead the industry for 20 years when he leaves.
There was speculation in the industry that his early departure was in part due to signs the second capital restructure attempt he has led could go off the rails.
There has been growing unrest among farmershareholders about the introduction of share trading among farmers. The board is understood to have received at least two shareholder petitions seeking a second vote on the proposal, spurred by concerns that farmers could lose their legal title to shares under the scheme.
Fonterra’s 10,000-odd shareholders voted overwhelmingly in support of share trading last year but many have developed concerns as technical details have emerged. A previous capital restructure attempt was angrily rejected by farmers in 2008 after it suggested a partial listing of the co-operative.
Mr Van der Heyden acknowledged shareholder unrest and said the board would revisit the proposal and report back to farmers by Christmas.
Federated Farmers said van der Heyden’s departure would be the end of an era.
Dairy arm chairman Willy Leferink said: ‘‘I don’t think many New Zealanders understand just how big a job Sir Henry has done.’’
STEPPING NOW: Sir Henry van der Heyden will step down from Fonterra.