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CF Industries boss steps down after a decade

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CF Industries, extending a round of changes at the top in US agribusinesses, announced the retirement of Steve Wilson as chief executive after a decade in which he led the group to becoming an international concern.

Mr Wilson will at the end of 2013 step down as chief executive of the US-based nitrogen fertilizer group, to be succeeded by Anthony Will, head of company's manufacturing and distribution arm

The announcement comes less than a week after Cargill, the agricultural trading giant, revealed that Greg Page was to step down as chief executive, with rival Bunge earlier this year replacing Alberto Weisser as chief executive.

Like Mr Page, 62, and Mr Weisser, 64-year-old Mr Wilson will stay on as chairman, although with the role termed non-executive, and with no departure date set.

Expansion moves

Mr Wilson quits the post after a decade in the job, and 22 years at CF Industries overall, which he joined as finance director, leaving Inland Steel Industries.

During his time in charge, the company changed from a member-owned group – CF Industries was founded in 1946 as Central Farmers Fertilizer Company, headquartered in Chicago – to a stockmarket listing in 2005.

It has also expanded abroad, acquiring a 50% stake in Keytrade, a Swiss-based agriculture trader, and proposing a nitrogen plant in Peru, although its most noted acquisition came in the domestic market, with the $4.7bn takeover of nitrogen fertilizer rival Terra Industries in 2010.

Mr Wilson beat Canadian potash group Agrium to the secure acquisition which, with the contested auction pushing up the price, received a mixed response from investors, and came only a month before CF warned of lower-than-expected sales, thanks to a wet US spring.

Hedge fund stake

The US expansion has come as a drop in domestic gas prices, thanks to the shale gas revolution, has allowed big users, such as CF Industries, to lower costs and support margins, and boost domestic output of nitrogen fertilizers in which the US is still a net importer.

Indeed, CF a year ago revealed $3.8bn plans to expand two plants, in Iowa and Louisiana, to exploit the low prices, although proposals by rivals too have raised questions over the returns from such projects.

CF has also come under the spotlight after attracting an investment from Third Point, the activitist hedge fund run by Daniel Loeb, which during the April-to-June quarter bought 845,000 shares in CF.

Third Point said that CF trades at an "unwarranted discount" to peers in the fertilizer and chemicals sector, but could gain a "substantial rerating" by lifting its dividend.

Market reaction

CF shares, which closed at $16.20 on their first day of trading in New York eight years ago, stood at $201.43 in morning deals, a gain of 3.9%.

That added more than $1m to the value of Mr Wilson's own stake, of some 140,000 shares.

Mr Will joined CF Industries six years ago from Accenture, the consultancy, with his career also including spells at Sears, Roebuck and Company, Fort James Corporation and Boston Consulting.

By Agrimoney.com

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