17 Nov 2011

Chairman to leave Fonterra board

9:58 pm on 17 November 2011

More changes are to be made at the top of the country's biggest corporate, Fonterra.

The dairy giant's chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden has told farmer-owners at the company's annual meeting in Whangarei that he plans to stand down at next year's gathering.

Sir Henry has been on Fonterra's board since its formation 10 years ago and chairman since since 2002.

In September, Fonterra's chief executive Andrew Ferrier stepped down after eight years in the top job, to be replaced by Theo Spierings.

Sir Henry says by the time he leaves, Mr Spierings will have had a year at the helm, smoothing the transition to a new chairman.

Federated Farmers' dairy chair Willy Leferink says Fonterra has come of age under Sir Henry's leadership.

"It grew from a company that was barely able to walk to the most mature player in the world now," he says.

Mr Leferink says the respect Fonterra has worldwide is mind boggling.

In a separate announcement, Australian-based banker Sir Ralph Norris has been appointed to the board and will start in May.

Share trading reassurance

Mr Spierings tried to reassure farmers at the meeting that its share trading proposal will not mean a loss of control.

The contentious issue of trading, which would allow private investors to claim the dividend but not the ownership of shares through a Fonterra-controlled custodian, has worried some farmers they could lose control of the shares entirely.

Mr Spierings says Fonterra needs the capital that the trading would generate to expand its business.

He's asked management to try to find a solution that ensures the legal title of the shares remains completely in farmers' hands.