Scientist Tom Richardson will swap crown research institutes to take the helm as chief executive of the biggest of the state-owned entities, AgResearch.

Richardson has been chief executive at forestry-focused crown research institute Scion for the past five years but will start at AgResearch in September.

Chairman Sam Robinson said Richardson was selected after an international search.

"Over recent years the role and position of AgResearch in the pastoral sector has been re-established, and the board anticipates that as the new [chief executive], Dr Richardson will strengthen further this positioning for the benefit of New Zealand, the organisation itself and its key stakeholders."

AgResearch employs more than 1000 people, with a head office in Hamilton and work including three science groups of agriculture and environment, applied biotechnologies, and food and textiles.

"According to its annual report the state-owned researcher had revenue for the year ending June 2009 of $155.1 million," said Robinson.

"Our board was genuinely thrilled at the quality and calibre of the applicants for the [chief executive] position, which is a measure of the esteem in which AgResearch is held internationally."

Richardson is from the United States but has worked in science in New Zealand for 20 years, including 18 years at Scion.

AgResearch said Richardson's science background was in genetics and that he had established a genomics research group at Scion and spin-out company SignaGen.

Richardson was a science innovation sector leader and would bring strategic and commercial qualities that underpinned his success at Scion to his new position, Robinson said.

"The fact that he's a scientist and will be respected by scientists and thinks like a scientist and has good leadership and management skills, the discipline he has ... it's not enormously material but it's a nice co-incidence that it happens to be in something that we are very strong in as well," he said.

Richardson also held science-related directorships including the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, Future Forests Research and Science New Zealand.

He holds a bachelor of arts in biology from Bucknell University and a doctorate in botany from Pennsylvania State University.

Chief executive, AgResearch
Age: 48

Born: United States

Family: Married with two sons.

Employment: Former chief executive Scion; 20 years working in New Zealand science.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Bucknell University; doctorate in Botany from Pennsylvania State University.