Solid Energy hunts for new chief executive

Solid Energy's board is starting the process of seeking a new chief executive to bring the company back to profitability.

New chairman Mark Ford hopes to have a new leader by midyear for the state coalminer now being propped up by a government promise it will not allow it to go into receivership.

Some potential candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring while the SOE comes under fire for empire building, gold-plated salaries and imprudently high debt at $389 million.

Ford, also the chief executive of Watercare in Auckland, said the company's board will meet early next week to discuss and approve the process.

"I'm proposing an international process. We've already had candidates apply.

"Obviously we want good mining skills. I hope we can find somebody within New Zealand because there is some very good candidates, but we are not limiting it to New Zealand. We are looking for the best.

"I certainly want to finish it and have somebody in by midyear. But it all depends for the right person what notice period they have to give."

Solid Energy is a sizeable firm even by international standards. It has about 1200 employees and its turnover for the year to June is expected to be about $650m.

Recruitment experts say despite Solid Energy's high-profile troubles and near collapse, and the criticism and outrage at the former chief executive's salary of $1.3m, the job is no poisoned chalice.

Stephen Ellett, an associate director of Signium Executive Search, said contenders would find the challenge of the chief executive position appealing. A lot of businesses had been burned during the global financial crisis in the past five years and that had happened later to Solid Energy.

The job required a leader able to rebuild and manage the coal business as well as its political environment.

Solid Energy is headquartered in Christchurch.

Ellett did not consider that Christchurch's lack of a central business district, leaner entertainment and social activities and state of disrepair after earthquakes, would deter potential contenders.

"I think a lot of people are aware that it's not ideal but I think that most people have got over the fact that there was an earthquake, and are just looking at Christchurch now as a location in the South Island and obviously one of the major centres in the South Island.

"I don't think the lack of a CBD at this stage is going to impair anyone.

"I think people look at it as a challenge to turn the organisation around, as long as there is a clear mandate from the board as to where the company is heading and obviously considering what the Government is looking for.

"Someone else will see it as an opportunity," said Barry Knight, an executive recruitment specialist in Christchurch.

A recruitment process could easily take 12 to 15 weeks, he said.

Recruitment companies had teams of researchers who studied companies to find candidates within them and shoulder-tapped those people.

"We call it disturbing people," Knight said.

International recruitment agencies can have fees that are a third of the remuneration package of the particular job.