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Van der Heyden to step down as Fonterra chairman, Ralph Norris tapped to join board

Thursday 17th November 2011

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Fonterra Cooperative Group chairman Henry van der Heyden is to step down next year after a decade in the job and the cooperative has tapped Commonwealth Bank of Australia chief executive Ralph Norris to join the board.

Van der Heyden will step down at the 2012 annual meeting, Fonterra said in a statement. His departure marks a changing of the guard at the top of New Zealand’s biggest company, with Dutch dairy executive Theo Spierings having replaced Andrew Ferrier as chief executive in September.

The announcement was made at Fonterra’s AGM in Whangarei today. The statement says the board began looking for a new CEO two years ago and at the same time started work to identify a new chairman.

“I stood for another term because it was important we had stability through the transition to a new CEO,” said van der Heyden, who has chaired the company since 2002 and been on the board since Fonterra’s inception.

Norris won’t become a director until May 2012, because of other commitments, Fonterra said. John Ballard, who was due to retire at today’s meeting, will stay on the board for another six months with Norris’s appointment being put to shareholders for ratification at next year’s meeting, it said.

At today’s meeting, Spierings urged the farmer-shareholders to get in behind the Trading Among Farmers (TAF) scheme, which would create a market for the shares.

“If I am going to get you the best returns, I need permanent capital – and that means I need TAF,” Spierings said.

He said farmers had indicated some unease about the legal title to any shares going into the Shareholders’ Fund and as a result Fonterra is looking to see if there is a “workable solution where we can get legal title for shareholders if they place shares in the Fund.”

Fonterra will let shareholders know the outcome by Christmas, he said.

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