Glencore’s chosen Viterra chief makes fast exit

The head of Glencore International’s recently acquired North American agriculture business is leaving his post just a month into the job, creating a potential complication in integrating the unit.

Fran Malecha was Viterra’s chief operating officer until Glencore completed its acquisition of the Regina company on Dec. 17 and appointed him director of agricultural products for North America.

Compass Minerals, a salt and specialty fertilizer producer based in the Kansas City metro area, on Monday named Malecha its new president and CEO.

Malecha, 48, will take up his new post on Jan. 17 but will continue to work at Viterra in the meantime.

His abrupt change of plans gives Malecha a chance to lead a company in the city where he once lived, a Viterra spokeswoman said.

Movement in senior management is not uncommon or alarming after takeovers, but the timing is not helpful for Glencore, said Jason Zandberg, an analyst at PI Financial Corp. who previously covered Viterra.

"You’ve got essentially a company that doesn’t have operational experience in North America to any real degree and you want to keep as much of the local-grown talent as you can."

Kyle Jeworski, formerly vice-president of grain merchandising and transportation for Viterra, will take Malecha’s place.

Jeworski was named in 2011 as one of "Canada’s Top 40 Under 40" in the annual business management recognition program run by Caldwell Partners.

Saskatchewan-born and -educated, Jeworski rose up through Viterra from stints as a grain merchandiser in its former incarnation as Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

Glencore’s North American agriculture unit will keep the name of Viterra. It is one of the two biggest Prairie grain handlers, with capacity roughly equal to that of Winnipeg’s Richardson International.

Malecha leaves as Glencore integrates Viterra, a $6.1 billion acquisition, into the Swiss commodity trader’s global operations.

Glencore is also selling some grain-handling, port and processing assets to Richardson and is seeking regulatory approval to transfer most of Viterra’s farm supply stores to Agrium, and a minority interest in the Canadian Fertilizer Ltd. nitrogen plant to U.S. fertilizer firm CF Industries.

Malecha, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, lived in Calgary during his time at Viterra. His promotion by Glencore would have required him to live in Regina, where Glencore’s North American agriculture business is based.

Viterra last week had also named a new board of directors consisting of Chris Mahoney, Glencore’s director of agricultural products; Ernest Mostert, financial manager of Glencore Grain; Robert Wardell, a Canadian mining executive; and incumbent director Larry Ruud, CEO of One Earth Farms Corp.

– Rod Nickel writes for Reuters from Winnipeg. Includes files from AGCanada.com Network staff.