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Comvita CEO to step down, Hewlett to lead strategic review

Thursday 6th June 2019

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Comvita's chief executive for the past four years, Scott Coulter, is stepping down in September and, while it searches for a replacement, former CEO Brett Hewlett is taking on a temporary executive role to review the company’s underperforming assets.

Coulter will retain a governance role in the manuka honey products company's business in China business.

“Scott’s commitment to Comvita since joining the company in 2003 has been outstanding,” says chair Neil Craig.

Comvita shares have fallen more than 53 percent since Coulter took over the top job on Oct. 5, 2015 while the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index has gained more than 77 percent over the same period. The shares are trading at $3.33, up 7.1 percent.

“He will be most remembered for his pioneering work in developing our market presence in Australia, United Kingdom, North America and Asia,” Craig says in a statement.

“Scott has fostered the relationship with our Chinese partners over the past 16 years and has been a key driver of Comvita’s success in the China market” and has chosen to step down once the Chinese business becomes fully-owned.

The honey company announced in April that it would buy out its 49 percent Chinese joint venture partner for about $20 million and has been effectively the sole manager since April 1.

Comvita says the China business is trading profitably “and is a key component of a wider strategic review being undertaken by the board over the last 12 months.”

Hewlett will head a special purpose board sub-committee “charged with undertaking a review of the under-performing assets of the business as well as structural, balance sheet, leadership and organisation considerations,” Craig says.

“Specifically, the sub-committee will examine the possibility of a more formal separation between the ‘brand’ and ‘supply’ components of the business. External advisers will be retained as required to ensure minimal impact on the day-to-day operations of Comvita.”

Any decisions resulting from the review will be announced at the annual shareholders’ meeting on Oct. 17 when the company will also seek any necessary shareholder approvals.

“In the interim period, it is ‘business as usual’ in terms of retaining a focus on growth in sales, a continuing search for improvements in operational efficiencies and profit optimisation.”

In February, Comvita reported a first-half net loss of $2.7 million, a turn-around from a net $3.7 million profit in the previous first half.

(BusinessDesk)

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