The money is on Fonterra's next chairman to be former Zespri chairman Peter McBride as shareholders demand a leader with international market experience and a good commercial record to guide the big dairy co-operative out of a morale funk.
Fonterra farmer-owners approached by the Herald after the announcement that chairman John Monaghan would step down in November said the news was no surprise, and the next appointee must inspire confidence among shareholders, staff and New Zealand Inc.
The company signalled in September last year, around the time it announced a FY2019 net loss of $605 million on asset writedowns of $826m, that a succession plan for the top job was being worked on, though this did not mean Monaghan was going to retire.
Shareholders, who declined to be named, said McBride, though relatively new to the board of New Zealand's biggest company, was the clear successor.
He was elected to the board as a farmer-director in 2018 and has been eyed by shareholders and Fonterra unit-holders since as a potential chairman given the success of kiwifruit marketer Zespri.
Dairy industry leadership veteran, Fonterra shareholder and kiwifruit grower David Jensen said it was the right time for Monaghan to go.
"There's been a lot of change and John was part of some of the past. It is important that we are putting some of the challenges of the past behind us with a new outlook and a new chairperson.
"There is a real requirement to rebuild confidence in the shareholder base - shareholders and unit holders - and in the Government which clearly struggled with Fonterra in its first 12 months in office.
"And equally for the public who look to Fonterra to provide leadership around all sorts of areas ...."
Jensen declined to say who should succeed Monaghan.
"That's a decision the board needs to make and it needs to be a good one."
Other shareholders said McBride's short time on the Fonterra board was irrelevant.
"To chair an organisation of this size and never to have chaired anything is a hell of an ask," said one.
"It is a large complex business and requires stakeholder management. McBride has experience on the international stuff and Zespri is in a very similar space to Fonterra. He's had that exposure and experience. He and Lain [Jager, former Zespri chief executive] did a great job on the Psa recovery and he also has a commercial record which is very important."
Monaghan and his predecessor, the late John Wilson, had not chaired a company of size before taking on the job.
Former Fonterra farmer-director Blue Read said he respected Monaghan for his work in the co-operative and for leading reform in the company in the past few months. Monaghan has been a farmer-director for 11 years. He became chairman in 2018 when Wilson stepped down for health reasons. Wilson died last year aged 54.
"Hopefully his [Monaghan's] legacy will be drawing Fonterra back from the brink. It would be nice if industry politics got in behind whatever the company decides to do from here on in. John came in and with the board and management identified what the challenges were and got on with it.
"They started making some hard but not necessarily popular decisions."
Under the board and new chief executive Miles Hurrell, Fonterra a year ago embarked on a new business plan and strategy.
Read said he wasn't close enough to the board these days to comment on who should be the next chairperson but experience was only one factor.
The appointee needed to be able to meld a relatively new board team together.
"We tend to over power - the chair's major job is to run the board, not the company."
Read said he was encouraged that Fonterra "is being run more like a commercial business now".
Another shareholder said he wasn't surprised Monaghan, as a long-time director, was leaving.
"With any other board you'd fall on your sword the day after a write down like that [FY2019] - look at Fletcher Building. He's actually done well to be chairman this long."
He said McBride was the clear choice for new chairman.
McBride declined to comment.
Leonie Guiney is the longest-serving farmer-director. An outspoken critic of Fonterra's performance during a short time off the board, she was re-elected by farmers in 2018.
Under Fonterra constitution, the new chairperson must be appointed from among its seven farmer-elected directors. Independent directors can't be the chairperson.
The company said the next chairperson would be announced no later than August.
Fonterra said it had made good progress finding a replacement for independent director Simon Israel who stepped down last year.