Argentine disaster 'not why Sealord chief quitting'

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:58 27/03/2014

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Sealord chief executive Graham Stuart is to step down in September but says the decision is not because of the fallout from the group's disastrous foray into Argentina.

The business had turned the corner and would report a "really good" half-year result in a fortnight's time, he told the Nelson Mail.

Mr Stuart has helmed the Nelson and Auckland-based global seafood group for seven years. He announced his decision to Sealord's iwi shareholders at the Aotearoa Fisheries annual meeting in Auckland yesterday and then a message to staff was circulated.

Iwi own 50 per cent of Sealord through Aotearoa Fisheries, with the other half belonging to Nissui, of Japan. Sealord has been struggling to recover from the failed Argentina fishing venture that created a $47 million loss, leading to an overall loss of $44m for the year to September 30. It meant that no dividend was paid to the shareholders. Mr Stuart said the company had "put Argentina behind it and it's going to pay a dividend and do all the things it's done every other year except last year".

"We've had a good six months. We'll report our half-year result in two weeks' time and it's going to be a really good one, so we're quite happy about that."

He said he'd reported to the Aotearoa Fisheries board that Sealord was "well ahead of plan" at this point, well into profit and on target for a strong annual result.

Mr Stuart is 56, and said he had opened a conversation about stepping down two years ago. He felt strongly that chief executives in companies like Sealord had a shelf life of five to eight years.

"Ideally I might have left two years ago but we had to work through these Argentina issues and put them behind us. We're doing that now, so I feel quite confident."

He joined Sealord from Fonterra. He said he would be concentrating on "getting through this year and delivering up a good result for Sealord" but had some ideas about his future.

"I kind of know where I'm going to go, but I don't want to talk about it yet," Mr Stuart said.

His message to staff said last year had been Sealord's most difficult in its recent history.

"The exit from Argentina was exceptionally tough and came at a time when fishing wasn't good and we were battling strongly adverse exchange rates."

While exchange rates hadn't improved the company was once again performing well, and well down the track to implementing strategies it put in place four years ago.

The Sealord board had begun the recruitment process and he would go either at the end of the financial year in September, or earlier if an appointment was made, the message said.

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Sealord owns 30 per cent of New Zealand's hoki quota and has benefited from a 20,000 tonne increase in the total allowable commercial catch, announced last year after a sustained recovery in the fishery.

Sealord's share of the increase was about 6000 tonnes.

Sealord hooks deal, p3

- Nelson

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