Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Solid Energy chief calls it a day

Don Elder won't be missed by West Coast mining communities still reeling over job losses, says mayor.

It is not known whether Don Elder will receive a golden handshake after 12 years as head of Solid Energy. Photo / APN
It is not known whether Don Elder will receive a golden handshake after 12 years as head of Solid Energy. Photo / APN

Long-serving Solid Energy chief executive Don Elder has joined the exodus from the top of the state-owned enterprise, his departure welcomed on the West Coast where hundreds of jobs have been lost in mines.

Elder's exit has been likely since the company's fortunes slumped last year. Yesterday he said discussions over his departure from his job - for which he was paid $1.1 million last year - had been "under way for some time".

The Coast has borne the brunt of job losses where Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn said Elder would not be missed.

The community was still reeling from the loss of more than 300 jobs from the Spring Creek mine which could have been avoided or minimised with better management, Kokshoorn said.

The company blamed an "extreme downturn" in global coal prices which resulted in a $40 million loss in the last financial year and write-downs of $151.7 million.

Kokshoorn said Solid Energy under Elder had become fixated on "flowery" new energy projects that had nothing to do with its core business and had ignored the cyclical nature of the coal trade.

"They took their eye off the ball and at the end of the day the buck stops with the chief executive. They must have known that what goes up must come down."

The board had been cleaned out under new chairman Mark Ford and Elder had been retained to help the transition, Kokshoorn said.

"These people are paid big salaries. They take the kudos in the good times and the big pay increases but when things turn bad and they make mistakes they have to accept the buck's got to stop with them."

About 360 staff and contractors were made redundant at Spring Creek near Greymouth and there have been job losses at the Huntly mine and at the Christchurch head office. There was a $1 billion gap between the company's calculation of its value and an independent valuation as part of the Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit process and chances of the company being partly sold in the government's asset sales programme are now distant.

Elder could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A spokesman said just before midday yesterday it was not clear whether Elder had left the Christchurch head office, although he had been there earlier in the day. It is not known if Elder will receive a golden handshake after 12 years as head of Solid Energy.

Ford - who helped reform Auckland local bodies - said that under Elder's leadership for the past 12 years the company had grown and "achieved many successes".

Last November, deputy chairman John Fletcher resigned with six months still to run on his term, and former director Michelle Smith left a year early. Solid Energy said it would recruit a new chief executive in due course. Garry Diack, previously the company's group manager of organisational development and performance, would serve as interim chief executive.

Don Elder

12 - years at the top of Solid Energy.
$1.1 million - Elder's pay last year.
440 - jobs lost in past year.
146 per cent - drop in profit last year.

- NZ Herald

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