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Don't cry for Bunge's Alberto Weisser

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Don't cry too hard for Alberto Weisser.

The Bunge chief executive, who transformed the agricultural commodities trader from a regional, family-owned business into a global player, saw the announcement of his retirement overshadowed by the group's worst results in at least a decade.

He was even asked whether his departure, after 14 years at the helm, was related to the loss of more than $600m in the October-to-December quarter. (He replied: "Absolutely not.)

The slide into the red, reflecting a rag bag of one-off charges against factors including the group's slow-burn Brazilian sugar operations and uncollected farm debts, certainly sounded a bum note.

But it may, in the end, turn out to help protect his reputation.

… and the kitchen sink

By himself putting the dirty laundry of his reign out on the open, Mr Weisser has got to display it on his own terms.

New bosses have a habit of so-called "kitchen sinking" soon after they take the helm – rooting through the accounts for potential writedowns, write-offs and charges (… "and the kitchen sink") to show investors.

Besides marking a clear break with the past, and avoiding them picking-up responsibility for a predecessor's errors, this clear-out can lower the esteem afford the last boss, and the hurdle that the new one has to beat.

There are plenty of examples.

Meg Whitman, the Hewlett-Packard chief executive, may have been less willing for the group to take a $8.8bn writedown in November on last year's purchase of Automony if she had been boss at the time of acquisition, rather than Léo Apotheker.

First mover advantages

At Bunge, Mr Weisser has not only seized control of the kitchen sink.

He has also allowed himself time to regloss his reputation. He does not step down as chief executive until the end of May, and will remain as executive chairman until the end of the year.

Furthermore, he has avoided the ultimate humiliation afforded a corporate leader – to see the share price of their company go up on the day their departure is announced.

Bunge's shares tumbled 9% on the day it announced Mr Weisser's retirement, knocking more than $1bn from its stockmarket value.

That's something to tell the grandchildren.

By Mike Verdin

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