15 Jul 2011

Farming leaders pleased with Fonterra's new chief executive

7:11 am on 15 July 2011

Fonterra's choice of a new chief executive has pleased dairy farming leaders.

Theo Spierings will replace Andrew Ferrier when he leaves in September.

Mr Spierings has spent most of his career with the Dutch dairy co-operative, Royal Friesland Foods.

He oversaw its merger with Campina in 2008, creating a cooperative with 17,000 suppliers in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

He currently owns and runs his own company, which focuses on corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions in fast moving consumer goods.

Fonterra chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden says Mr Spierings brings 25 years of knowledge of the global dairy industry, with experience in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

That background and experience impresses Federated Farmers' new dairy chair, Willy Leferink.

''This guy comes from a co-op. Friesland are a serious player and he will bring a lot of experience,'' he said.

Fonterra Shareholders chair, Simon Couper, also rates Mr Spiering's experience as essential for the new chief executive.

Both see Mr Spierings as a good choice to continue the work that Mr Ferrier has done in developing Fonterra as it moves into its second decade.

Reliance on board

However, Professor Stuart Locke from Waikato University says Fonterra's board will largely be steering the co-operative for a few years, as the new foreign chief executive settles in.

Professor Locke says Mr Spierings' vast experience in the dairy industry will be crucial for the job.

''His co-op shares the melamine experience in China in 2008 with Fonterra,'' he said.

''(But) as a foreigner coming into New Zealand, the chief executive is going to have to keep looking to the chairman for support.''