Chair­man’s de­ci­sion comes as a sur­prise

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

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.

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