Cofco, the Chinese ag giant which last month revealed a $150m trading hole, said that Matt Jansen had quit as head of its global grains arm – to be replaced by the head of a crop processor which unveiled a profits upgrade.
State-run Cofco said that Mr Jansen had "resigned… for personal reasons" as chief executive of Cofco International - which claims revenues of more than $35bn for 2016, through delivering more than 100m tonnes of products - although he will remain as an interim adviser.
The announcement comes 18 months after Mr Jansen joined the Cofco empire from Archer Daniels Midland, the US-based ag trader, where he was responsible for the global oilseeds unit and was group's chief risk officer.
Mr Jansen was initially hired as chief executive of the Noble Agri business, now Cofco Agri, and part of the Cofco International arm which he was promoted in July to lead, amid plans to create a competitor to ADM and peers such as Bunge and Cargill.
"We look to Matt to bring to Cofco International the same acumen and insight he has brought to Cofco Agri and to take responsibility for the enhanced operation, profits and investors returns of Cofco International and its overseas businesses," Patrick Yu, the chief executive of the Cofco group, said at the time.
However, the global growth plans have hit turbulence, with Cofco Agri said to have suffered the departure of several leading staff - Kevin Brassington, global head of grains and oilseeds, is also reported this week to have left.
In December, it was revealed that a $150m hole had been discovered in the accounts of Dutch-based crop trader Nidera, in which Cofco International in August bought the outstanding 49% stake to gain 100% ownership.
Mr Jansen at the time termed the Nidera buyout a "transformative deal that will help us evolve and thrive over the long-term.
"This significantly accelerates the progress we have made in building a global leader in the international agricultural and food products industries, while delivering sustainable growth and superior returns for our shareholders," he added.
Mr Jansen will be succeeded by Jingtao "Johnny" Chi, who was promoted from chairman of China Agri-Industries Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed crop processor of which Cofco owns 58%. He has also, since May 2010, been a vice-president of Cofco Corp, and general manager of Cofco Trading since December 2013.
The appointment of Mr Chi - who has worked within the Cofco empire for 13 years, holding directorship of human resources at Cofco Corp – came as Agri-Industries Holdings unveiled a "positive profit alert", forecasting a profit attributable to owners of HK$1.4bn for 2016.
That compares with a loss of HK$332.7m for 2015, and represents a marked turnaround in performance from the first half of 2016, when the group unveiled a loss of HK$223.3m.
"In 2016, the company continued expanding the market and maintained a solid business momentum, and all its business divisions' performance has been significantly improved," China Agri-Industries Holdings said.
The group cited as reasons for its improvement in particular its hedging strategy.
"Despite the noticeable fluctuations in the oils and oilseeds market throughout the year, the company has accurately spotted and seized the right opportunities for procurement," the group said.
It had thrived "by leveraging its expertise and capabilities in making studies and judgements, and has made effective use of its hedging instruments to prevent and control risks".
The group also profited through raising crop processing volumes to boost economies of scale, achieving "significant improvement in its overall capacity utilisation rate".
Furthermore, Agri-Industries Holdings, a major processor of corn into the likes of biofuels and sweeteners, flagged a boost from lower raw material costs, as China's campaign to run down its huge stocks of the grain depresses prices.
"The significant drop of the domestic corn prices year-on-year since the third quarter of 2016… led to higher profit margin of the related products."
The announcement came after the close of the Hong Kong stock exchange, where China Agri-Industries Holdings shares closed 1.7% higher at HK$3.07.
By Mike Verdin