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Investors who tired of Bill Doyle’s bombast will probably appreciate Jochen Tilk.
The new chief executive of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. could not be more different from his predecessor. While Mr. Doyle was the ultimate stock promoter, Mr. Tilk is a quiet and conservative mine operator. While Mr. Doyle rarely got through an interview or conference call without saying something outrageous, Mr. Tilk has dodged the limelight his entire career.
What Mr. Tilk does know how to do is operate mines as efficiently as possible. That is what Potash Corp. needs at this stage of the cycle, experts said, and that is one of the things he stressed on Tuesday.
“I believe, as most operators believe, there’s always an opportunity to get better,” the 50-year-old said in an interview from Saskatoon.
Mr. Tilk, who took over last week upon Mr. Doyle’s retirement, is only the third CEO in Potash Corp.’s history. He acknowledged that he has very big shoes to fill after Mr. Doyle’s wildly successful 15-year run, and he stressed continuity of his predecessor’s longstanding strategies — including the famous price-over-volume strategy — rather than any serious overhaul.
“When you look at the evolution of Potash Corp. from its origins to where it is today, you have to give [Mr. Doyle] credit for that. I certainly do,” said Mr. Tilk, who was formerly CEO of copper miner Inmet Mining Corp.
Nonetheless, by hiring an outside executive with no fertilizer industry experience, Potash Corp. is making a significant break from the Doyle era.
Mr. Doyle’s message has been consistent for many years: the world’s population is rising, more food will be needed to feed them, and fertilizer demand is only going higher and higher. He was a permanent bull.
In recent years, that thesis has simply not worked out. By Mr. Doyle’s own admission, there was zero demand growth in the potash business from 2007 to 2013. Investors became increasingly frustrated as his message never wavered despite a rough bear market and falling prices. There were also lingering doubts about Mr. Doyle’s US$8.3-billion expansion strategy, which has left Potash Corp. with massive unused production capacity.
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