Bunge CEO Latest Casualty of Investor Activism

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Grain trading house Bunge Ltd. (NYSE: BG) announced Monday that CEO Soren Schroder will step down as soon as the company finds a replacement. Kathleen Hyle will immediately assume the role of board chair, replacing L. Patrick Lupo, who has been chair since 2014. Schroder has been the firm’s chief executive officer since 2013.

In late October, the company reached an agreement with activist investor D.E. Shaw and agriculture investment firm Continental Grain that added four new directors to Bunge’s 11-member board. Under terms of that agreement, Continental Grain CEO Paul Frigbourg, Gregory Heckman and Henry Winship were immediately added to Bunge’s board. The fourth addition came last week when Syngenta CEO J. Erik Fyrwald joined Bunge’s board.

At the same time, the company agreed to create a strategic review committee to explore the company’s options, following Bunge’s rejection of takeover offers from London-based Glencore and U.S. food giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. (NYSE: ADM). When the deal was announced in late October, CEO Schroder said:

This committee has been created as a good check on what it is we’ve been doing, whether we can do additional things, whether we can accelerate things …. There’s no preconceived notions of either direction or topic.

Maybe Schroder didn’t have any preconceived notions, but the strategic review committee does not appear to have had the same level of open-mindedness. Schroder was left off the six-member committee, a sure sign that his tenure at the top of the company had a rapidly approaching sell-by date.

Bloomberg reported Sunday that Schroder’s then-rumored departure meant that Bunge would be open once again to talks of merging with Glencore or ADM. The issue now, of course, is how much is Bunge worth given the tariff on U.S. soybeans and other agricultural products imposed by China in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports.

The future of U.S. grain exports depends a lot on trade negotiations between the United States and China. Where those are headed right now is anyone’s guess. The arrest of a Huawei executive in Canada last week has the potential to derail any agreement President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck at the G20 meeting earlier this month.