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Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan faces a future that is far more complicated than its illustrious recent past. The golden era of buoyant sales, tight supplies and soaring stock values are plainly in the rear-view mirror. And now after a tough year marked by plunging profits and steep cutbacks, the captain is leaving the ship just as it sails into even rougher waters.
Bill Doyle will depart June 30 after 27 years with the company, the last 15 as CEO. Mr. Doyle, who is approaching 64, is certainly entitled to rest on his laurels. But his timing raises concerns about the course that the company intends to chart. And the fact that the board has anointed an outsider, Jochen Tilk, as his successor doesn’t cast a favourable light on Mr. Doyle’s mentoring abilities.
One marker of a successful tenure in the corner office is the ability to foster a coterie of senior executives capable of stepping into the top job. But in Potash’s case, a three-year search brought them to the door of Mr. Tilk, a 30-year mining industry veteran whose main attraction was apparently his “focus on operational excellence and disciplined growth,” in the words of board chairman Dallas Howe. That sounds to me like someone preparing for more heavy cost-cutting of the kind that shuttered some production and lopped off about 18 per cent of the Potash work force in December.
During Mr. Doyle’s stint as the world’s biggest tub-thumper for fertilizer, Potash Corp. morphed from an ailing provincial Crown corporation into a publicly traded global heavyweight that for years delivered a steady stream of escalating profits and became a stock-market darling.
Then in 2010, Mr. Doyle pulled off his biggest personal success. Wrapping himself in the Maple Leaf flag, the American import and Chicago-area resident managed to win the political support necessary to fend off a hostile takeover by global mining powerhouse BHP Billiton of Australia.
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