Sudden winds of change are blowing through the Australian Agricultural Company, again, with managing director, Hugh Killen, announcing he is quitting immediately.
Mr Killen, who took up the top job in 2018 following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, Jason Strong, will be replaced temporarily by chief operating officer, David Harris.
An executive search by AACo will look at internal and external candidates in the local and overseas market to fill the job permanently.
Chairman, Don McGauchie, said AACo's board and Mr Killen had decided now was "the right time to begin an orderly executive leadership transition".
"The board and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Hugh for his significant contribution to the business and recognise the progress achieved under his leadership," Mr McGauchie told shareholders in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange.
"Hugh has steered AACo through some of the worst droughts and floods Australia has ever seen, the global impacts of COVID-19 and market fluctuations which occurred as a result of market impacts."
Mr Killen's departure, coincidentally, follows AACo also reporting to the ASX that beef and mining baron, Andrew Forrest, had increased his family investment company's stake in the big beef business to 17.4 per cent in the past week.
Until June 10 Tattarang held 8pc of AACo's listed stock, but it has since spent more than $122 million buying 104.9m shares.
AACo's share price has been on an unusually strong upward trajectory this year, gaining another cent following Mr Killen's announcement, to hit $2.27 on Tuesday
Until beginning a gradual lift about 14 months, AACo shares had lingered around the $1 each mark during 2019 and 2020 as the management team coped the COVID-19 outbreak's savage impact on restaurant markets, and a double whammy hit from drought and massive cattle deaths in an unusual 2019 Top End flood event which claimed 40,000 head and wrecked roads, fencing and other infrastructure.
Recent profit praise
Last month, however, AACo posted an operating profit of $49.9m - its strongest full-year financial performance since it was re-listed on the ASX 21 years ago.
The company's 382,000-strong herd in Queensland and Northern Territory was reported as being worth about $200m while its vast cattle station portfolio had gained from recent infrastructure improvements and property market valuations gains to be worth $254m.
Mr McGauchie paid tribute to Mr Killen for building a team which followed his predecessor,Mr Strong's moves to focus on branded beef for export to premium offshore markets, including a strong emphasis on Wagyu and Wagyu cross cattle production.
"By delivering on AACo's brand potential and investing capital back into the business, Hugh has balanced the need to strengthen the foundations while leading a simpler and more effective AACo to create value for shareholders," Mr McGauchie said.
"Throughout his tenure AACo has delivered an annual positive operating cash flow.
"Creating a sustainable future has also been one of Hugh's key drivers while at AACo."
Last November he launched AACo's Sustainability Framework, promoted as the first of its kind for the beef industry and boasting three key themes of reimagining agriculture, valuing nature and thriving communities.
Mr Killen, originally from Narrabri in the NSW North West, initially joined AACo in 2017 as chief commercial officer after a career in banking and foreign exchange markets, a big portion of it in London.
He took over after Mr Strong had held the job for three and a half years then took "gardening leave", then later took the helm at Meat and Livestock Australia.
He had been appointed about six months after former cotton industry identity, David Farley, departed the job without explaining his resignation decision.
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