Property editor of the NZ Herald

Fonterra shoots down claims CEO Theo Spierings is quitting

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Fonterra has denied claims in Australian media that chief executive Theo Spierings may be preparing to leave the dairy giant.

"The speculation is completely untrue", Fonterra spokesman G.J Thompson told the Herald.

The Australian newspaper has run a story Spierings might be on the way out and Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon was in line to take his place.

No source for the information was given.

An Auckland-based finance expert said he too believed Spierings would soon go and thought Luxon would head Fonterra.

"Spierings has been pretty unhappy for a while, even thought he's paid mega-bucks. He thinks the board has been too slow to make any changes. The culture is not as dynamic as he would like it to be. There's differences between his thinking and the board and Chris Luxon is the one to watch," the expert said.

"But the talk of his departure comes after Murray Goulburn (Australia's dairy giant) chief executive Gary Helou recently left the Australian dairy co-op following a shock profit downgrade," The Australian said.

"Speculation has emerged in the past month on both sides of the Tasman that Mr Luxon has been earmarked as the next Fonterra boss, with a departure by Mr Spierings, who has 30 years experience in the industry, said to be close.

"Mr Luxon been seen as somewhat of a star performer at Air New Zealand, which has seen its market value almost triple in the three years he has been running the airline," the report said.

Air New Zealand's only comment today was that "Christopher Luxon remains committed to Air New Zealand".

He told The Business last year that he was at the airline for the long haul.

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.
Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

"I love this company and I love this job and I can't think of a company that makes as big a difference to New Zealand - I'm here for a while,'' he said in September.

"[Succession] is not a big topic of conversation because I'm fairly young in the job age wise (45) and fairly young in experience. CEOs need to be some time in the job because you've got to review the business, invent a new strategy, execute it, secure results and review it again.''

Luxon joined the airline as head of its international division in 2011 before succeeding Rob Fyfe as chief executive, starting in that role in January 2013.

He had 18 years experience working around the world for Unilever prior to his airline job.

Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president Chris Lewis said he had not heard "anything of any substance" about Spierings' possible departure.

"Until you hear it from the man himself, it is just gossip," Lewis said.

"Running a big company like this is always going to be a bloody tough job and you are never going to please everyone," he said.

Theo Spierings

• More than 25 years' experience in the global dairy industry.
• Born 1964 in the Netherlands.
• Bachelor of Arts in Food Technology/Biotechnology.
• Master of Business Administration, Glasgow University.
• Acting chief executive of Royal Friesland Foods in 2007.
• Oversees merger with Campina in 2008.
• Ran own company in Netherlands focusing on corporate strategy, and mergers and acquisitions, in fast-moving consumer goods.
• Appointed Fonterra chief executive in 2011.

- NZ Herald

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