UPDATED: After more than a year of corruption charges and top-level personnel drama at Yara International, the company finally announced on Monday that it had found a new and relatively young chief executive officer. Svein Tore Holsether will take over at the age of 42, and be paid a base salary of NOK 6 million (USD 750,000) a year to do so.
Holsether’s appointment ends a lengthy executive search process, first to find a replacement for former CEO Jørgen Ole Haslestad, who led the company during a period when its former administration was hit with massive corruption charges, and then for Svein Richard Brandtzæg, who quit before he even began. Brandtzæg, chief executive at Yara’s former parent Norsk Hydro, had been tapped to lead the troubled fertilizer giant but withdrew when it became clear that the company while still under Haslestad had embarked on a merger process with a large US-based fertilizer firm, without mentioning it to him.
The merger deal fell apart after Brandtzæg withdrew and Haslestad, who’d stayed at the helm pending his replacement by Brandtzæg, was summarily fired for alleged infringements tied to the merger. All this drama at the highest executive levels, which led to Yara being run on an interim basis by its chief financial officer Torgeir Kvidal, took place while Yara’s founding executive team was under indictment on charges they’d bribed officials in Libya and India in order to establish new business ventures in both countries. Their trial ended last week, while Yara itself accepted the charges against the company and avoided trial by paying the biggest fine for corruption in Norwegian history.
Now Svein Tore Holsether will take over for Kvidal and attempt to get Yara back on an even keel. Kvidal will return to his old post as CFO. Yara Chairman Leif Teksum, who himself took over just last year when the company’s former chairman resigned in the wake of the corruption case, claimed Holsether is “a perfect fit” for the company.
He comes from a position of president and chief executive at Oslo-based aluminum firm Sapa Group, a joint venture owned by Norsk Hydro and Norwegian industrial concern Orkla Group. Sapa has around 23,000 employees in more than 40 countries, nearly three times that of Yara.
Holsether has led Sapa since 2011 and before that, worked for Orkla and Elkem. Teksum cited his “extensive background from international industry, coupled with his personal capabilities.” Like most Norwegian companies, Yara seemed keen to have a Norwegian at the top.
He’ll receive a base salary of NOK 6 million a year, low by international standards but enhanced by both short-term and long-term bonus programs. Teksum told state broadcaster that Yara will also compensate Holsether for part of the bonus pay he will lose a result of leaving his current position at Sapa.
Holsether himself sent out a social media message that he’d “accepted” the spot as Yara’s CEO “after eight rewarding and exciting years in Sapa.” He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Tuesday that he now wants “to move forward” with Yara, which he described as a “solid and good company” that’s been in the stuck in the shadow of all the corruption drama around it in recent years. “I can see that Yara has a strong and exciting position globally,” he told DN. “They make products (mostly fertilizer) that mean something. Unfortunately it came under a shadow.” He said, like so many other chief executives, that he has “zero tolerance” for corruption.
Teksum admitted that Holsether was relatively young, but said his “industrial background” was “very relevant” for Yara. “We also think he has the human qualities to lead such a large global company as Yara,” Teksum said.
The rank and file were probably hoping for a period of calm and stability following years of Yara being in the headlines in Norway for all the wrong reasons. Holsether told DN.no that he just wants to move forward. He’s due to take over by October 1.