Shareholder slams Fonterra election process

Former Hamilton city mayor Russ Rimmington has slammed Fonterra’s upcoming director election as undemocratic.

Fonterra boss Andrew Ferrier rubbished the claim, saying the process was designed to ensure quality candidates were selected.

Mr Rimmington said because of a “gagging” clause in the election code of conduct, nominees’ stance on the current board’s plans for capital restructuring are unable to be a major part of the process.

Nominations close on Thursday, September 17. The next day Fonterra will go to shareholders with the beginning of its consultation process.

Three directors on the dairy giant’s board must retire this year by rotation. While Mr Rimmington has yet to officially announce his candidacy, he has indicated his interest in seeking one of the spots.

The code essentially prohibits candidates from campaigning apart from writing a 1500 word statement to shareholders and attending a road show of farmer meetings around the country.

Mr Rimmington owns a 330ha dairy farm at Tamehere, near Hamilton, and milked 400 cows at the beginning of the season. He was a Hamilton city councillor for nine years and mayor for three between 1998 and 2001.

He expected to announce his nomination as a candidate later this week, but said be believe the election process was “not a matter of fair play.”

However, Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier, told NBR claims of an undemocratic process were unfounded.

He said it was critical that Fonterra’s board was qualified and competent.

“Fonterra will be a strong organisation if the competency of their ability to be a director is the priority,” Mr Ferrier said.

“It’s got to be about competence.”

To achieve that, nominees are invited to take part in a “candidate assessment panel (CAP). This would look at key competencies the company believed the shareholders needed for its representatives on the board. A rating of each of these competencies would be made available along with the 1500 word statement.

Nominees could also choose to withdraw from the process following this ranking, which remain confidential at that point.

Board chairman Sir Henry van der Heyden is on the assessment panel, along with shareholders council chairman Blue Read. Zespri chairman John Loughlin, Air New Zealand director Roger France and Elizabeth Hickey, a director of the Institute of Environmental and Science Research make up the balance.

Mr Rimmington said “new blood” was needed on the Fonterra board.

Nominations for the Fonterra election close next Thursday, September 17. CAP interviews will be conducted from September 21-24 followed by the announcement of election candidates on October 1.

Voting opens on October 23 and closes on November 16. In between a candidate roadshow from November 2-6 will be held at locations throughout New Zealand.

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Ferrier is a mere employee of the board. It is absolutely not his job to comment on an election process of board members.

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