Fonterra Cooperative Group's chief operating officer of the consumer and food service division, Lukas Paravicini, will leave the country's dominant dairy company in January.
The right-hand man to former chief executive Theo Spierings will leave next month after five years with the cooperative, returning his family to Europe.
He joined Fonterra as chief financial officer in 2013, shifting roles last year to oversee a key plank in Spierings' strategy to shift greater volumes of higher value product.
"During his time, Lukas was instrumental in maintaining the financial strength of the cooperative, including through some years of low milk prices and challenging global conditions," chief executive Miles Hurrell said in a statement.
"He spearheaded initiatives such as the cooperative support loan and championed Fonterra's business transformation."
Under his watch as CFO, Fonterra's long-term credit rating was cut to 'A-' by Standard & Poor's and 'A' by Fitch Ratings in 2015 as peak capital expenditure and the debt-funded acquisition of a stake in Beingmate Baby & Child Food coincided with heightened volatility in the dairy market.
At the time, S&P anticipated that rating to remain for a few years, given the potential for further volatility in the market.
Paravicini played a key role under Spierings' tenure as CEO, often fronting media briefings when the company reported earnings. His exit comes after Spierings left Fonterra earlier than flagged after the world's biggest dairy exporter lowered its farmgate payout and cut its final dividend payment.
The dairy company went on to post its first loss after writing down the value of its Beingmate investment by $405 million from the original $750m paid and compensating former customer Danone with $183m over the 2013 recall triggered by a botulism scare at one of its plants.
Hurrell was appointed acting CEO and the board froze its search for a new chief executive, given the board had just appointed John Monaghan chair to replace John Wilson.
Fonterra said an announcement on Paravicini's replacement will follow.
Separately, the Fonterra Shareholders' Council today said it will hold a second election for the remaining vacancy on the board next month. Only Leonie Guiney and Peter McBride attracted more than 50 per cent support in the first election, meaning a second poll is needed.
The council decided the vote will be between the unsuccessful candidates nominated who wanted to re-stand, being self-nominated candidate John Nicholls and board-backed Jamie Tuuta. Voting will open on December 3 and close on December 20.
"In reaching this decision your council has carefully considered the background circumstances, the range of possible options to find candidates for the second election, and what is best for the cooperative," council chair Duncan Coull said in an email to shareholders.