Fisher & Paykel Appliances chief executive John Bongard is fighting prostate cancer and is to leave the business in December. Chairman Gary Paykel yesterday announced the shock departure to shareholders at the company's annual meeting, saying Bongard would be retiring because of health reasons.

After the meeting Bongard said he had been grappling with prostate cancer for the past year.

"It was about this time last year when I underwent treatment for prostate cancer."

Bongard said he had been ignoring advice from his doctors over the past year to slow down but after receiving some test results last week that had not been as positive as expected, he had decided to take the advice.

He has had to work through a majoring restructuring of the business to raise capital and dig the company out of a debt hole while keeping his personal health situation under wraps.

Bongard said one of his toughest moments was having to tell workers in the company's Mosgiel manufacturing plant near Dunedin that they would lose their jobs.

"It has been a very awkward year. Two days after I was diagnosed we had to make the announcement of closing the factory down in Dunedin," said Bongard.

Paykel said there were several internal candidates who were possibilities for the role and the company was also carrying an international search in its bid to find a replacement.

Bongard said he hoped his December departure would give the business time to find a replacement before he left so there could be a handover period.

He did not have any plans for the future at this stage but would take the summer off and then reassess it.

Bongard has been with the company since November 1973 and has been managing director of the appliance business since it split from Fisher & Paykel Healthcare in 2001.

While he had many happy memories, working for the company's capital raising in the past six months had been one of the toughest periods.

Bongard said his biggest regret was having to close down the company's New Zealand and Australian manufacturing operations and send them overseas. "But there was no way we could have avoided that."

Bongard will leave the board of Fisher & Paykel as well as his executive role.

Yesterday two new directors from Chinese manufacturer Haier - Lisa Tan and Jack Zhou - were voted on to the board and John Gilks was re-elected.

Norm Geary stood down and in a surprise announcement former activist fund manager Simon Botherway was also appointed to the board.

While shareholders welcomed Botherway as a director they questioned why they were not given a chance to vote him in. They will not be given a chance to do this until next year's AGM.

Shareholders Association chairman Bruce Sheppard said it was offensive that shareholders were not trusted with a vote and asked if it was because the board were only trialling Botherway.

But Paykel said he could not have appointed Botherway until Norm Geary retired yesterday because of restrictions on the number of people on the board.

Forsyth Barr analyst Guy Hallwright said it was unusual the way Botherway was appointed as directors not voted in at an AGM usually came in part way through the year.

But he believed the market would take the appointment of Botherway well as the company had been criticised in the past for sourcing too many of its directors from previous company executives.

Market commentator Arthur Lim said in appointing Botherway the board appeared to be "calling his bluff".

Paykel also said he had asked former Fletcher Building chief Ralph Waters to stay on longer. Waters had hoped to leave the board by the end of the year.

Fisher and Paykel's share price closed down 5c on 80c.