All options should be on the table at Fonterra

Inherent contradictions in structure will again test the board on ‘Black Friday’.
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Is Fonterra on the right track? Or is it time for Plan B? Dump the current structure which pits the farmer shareholders with their prime focus on the growth of the milk price and their payouts against the interests of outside shareholders who want good returns for the investment of their capital in the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund, and revamp the company.
Plan B would result in the company being split into a basic commodity player focused on growing the milk price. As well as a listed offshoot that can suck in enough capital to develop major food brands.
Such a step would require Government legislative assistance given that Fonterra’s own farmer shareholders rejected a variant of this model when the company embarked on its first capital restructuring exercise. But in an environment where the financial results are being chased down off the back of the punishing low global dairy prices which have resulted in many farmers being «under water», all options should be canvassed.
The inherent contradictions in the company’s current structure will again test the Fonterra board when it meets on Friday August 7 in what has been dubbed a Black Friday for the company.
The board is expected to break at 3pm – or earlier if the company’s PR hands have their way. At that stage chairman John Wilson and chief executive Theo Spierings will announce by how much the current milk payout forecast has been cut; they will give updated earnings guidance and some flavour on the size of the expected dividend (if they do indeed make a payment at all rather than simply shoring up the balance sheet).
Next Wednesday, Fonterra staff will also go into their second consultation round. Expectations are this round will be more savage than the first round that saw more than 500 jobs disestablished in what has been coined a «drastic slimdown».
Spierings and Wilson are also expected to share the results of the back-to-basics exercise that the senior management team embarked on with the guidance of McKinsey’s restructuring arm Recovery Transformation Services (RTS).
The Fonterra chief executive likens RTS’ role as being akin to the management team’s personal trainer: hard-nosed outside consultants who have given what Spierings dubs a private equity view of the company and supported management to make some tough calls.
The restructuring which will see a large number of staff lose their jobs naturally grabs the headlines. But the larger gains will come at the cash level: greater sales focus – for instance selling milk powder direct to food manufacturing customers rather than through the traders who buy up inventory at auction; divesting assets that don’t fit with the company’s focus and getting greater efficiencies.
The question is whether this clean sheet exercise will deliver enough real results when the primary issue may well be structural.
There is a lot resting on Spierings’ shoulders. He got together with the late Craig Norgate and chewed the fat the day before the company’s first chief executive set off to London in what was promoted as his long overdue «OE».
Norgate had a blunt but focused Kiwi style and Spierings has Dutch directness. They agreed the strategy to take the company back to basics was 100 per cent right. Norgate – who later died suddenly in London – had been through the mill himself during his short two-year period leading Fonterra. To Spierings he was a «very good thinker», a «visionary» and a real loss.
Resilience is the current buzzword at Fonterra. Senior management is focused on trying to stay calm and deliver on what it can influence rather than get engaged in negativity.
Spierings is known to believe he has the support of a united board.
But as pressure goes on with the next farmer shareholder elections approaching it is inevitable the CEO’s performance will also come under sharper scrutiny. Next week could well be make or break for the CEO.
Source: NZHerald

Mirá También

Así lo expresó Domingo Possetto, secretario de la seccional Rafaela, quien además, afirmó que a los productores «habitualmente los ignoran los gobiernos». Además, reconoció la labor de los empresarios de las firmas locales y aseguró que están «esperanzados» con la negociación entre SanCor y Adecoagro.

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