22 Mar 2018

'Appalling' Fonterra result a case for NZer boss - economist

11:16 am on 22 March 2018

Fonterra's appalling result yesterday points to a lack of connection between management and local shareholders, agricultural economist Peter Fraser says.

Shareholders ask questions of the board.

Fonterra shareholders ask the board questions at the annual AGM in November. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The dairy giant yesterday announced a $348 million loss for the six months to September, and chief executive Theo Spierings said he would be leaving his $8m-a-year role later this year.

Mr Fraser told Morning Report Fonterra's result was nothing short of appalling.

"If you look at value of the sharemarket over the last seven, eight years [it] has gone up almost 100 percent. Fonterra's value in terms of their listed units has gone down 14 percent.

"That's a hell of a market statement.

"I would imagine farmer shareholders would demand a scalp, and it looks like they got Theo," he said.

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings.

Departing Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He said Fonterra as a company had failed to connect with the New Zealand public.

"And one of the reasons is, for something like 14 of the 18 years Fonterra's been in existence, it's not been led by a New Zealand accent," he said.

"And for a company that's been going almost 18 years you would think they would have groomed some potential leadership internally, because they've had plenty of time to do it."

"I mean, the fact that the National party can get someone that speaks like a local tells something that maybe that's a hint to the Fonterra board that they need to find a local.

He said the company did not have a revolving door on either the chief executive or board chair positions, and the question now was whether Mr Spierings' exit would be enough for shareholders.

"Theo's been there for seven years, his predecessor Andrew Ferrier had been there for approximately the same time ... they like continuity, but seven years is a lot of continuity."

"I think the question is to what extent will shareholders be satisfied with Theo leaving, given he was probably going to leave anyway, or are they going to go further and look at the board as well."

He said he was not hugely concerned about the pay package of the position, saying that if whoever was in that role produced $8m worth or work they should be paid it, but he questioned whether Mr Spierings matched up.

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