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Mercury CEO Whineray to leave next year for senior Fonterra role

Tuesday 8th October 2019

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Mercury NZ chief executive Fraser Whineray will leave the electricity sector next year to take a senior role at Fonterra Cooperative Group. 

Whineray will finish at Mercury in 2020 to become chief operating officer at Fonterra. He has been with the electricity generator-retailer for 11 years, the last five as CEO. 

He will join Fonterra early next year in a newly-created role where he will be tasked with facilitating innovation, enabling its in-market business units to create value sustainably, and to create operational scale and efficiency. 

"Fraser has demonstrated he can transform organisations to achieve growth in complex environments through a focus on innovation, customers and his team," Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said in a statement. 

"He is motivated to contribute to New Zealand’s export success and to drive sustainability, innovation and efficiency in business – three strengths that we believe can create real value." 

Whineray took over the reins at Mercury in September 2014 and led it through a rebranding from Mighty River Power, sold overseas assets and the Metrix smart metering business, and mothballed the Southdown gas-fired power station as the power company focused on renewable energy, particularly geothermal and wind developments. 

The share price climbed to $5.40 from $2.28 when he first took over, a 137 percent increase largely matching the 138 percent gain on the S&P/NZX 50 Index over the same period. 

Mercury chair Prue Flacks said the process to find a replacement will start immediately with an internal and external search. 

"We expect strong interest in the role, given Mercury’s profile and momentum, the dynamic nature of the industry and the important role renewable energy has in people’s lives and in our country’s future," Flacks said.

Whineray - who chairs the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council - said the decision to leave was tough but he is looking forward to his return to the dairy sector. 

"A great feature of renewable energy is that it will be around forever, delivering great outcomes for customers and the country," he said. 

"I am pleased to be able to continue in a role which contributes to New Zealand and has strong, genuine relationships with many regional communities, Maori land trusts and local iwi across the country." 

Whineray is the second CEO of one of the big four electricity generator-retailers to announce their departure this year, with Contact Energy's Dennis Barnes also leaving early next year. Barnes is being replaced by Refining NZ's CEO Mike Fuge. 

(BusinessDesk)

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