A BRIEF technical announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange today effectively closed the chapter on Mauro Balzarini’s era of operational control of one Australia’s largest livestock exporting businesses, Wellard Limited.
However for all intents and purposes Mr Balzarini’s period at the helm of the livestock export company which was started in 1979 by his father, Italian migrant and butcher Emilio Balzarini, ended with a board reshuffle and management restructure back in September 2017.
Mauro Balzarini, a naval architect, joined the Family business in 1985 as a marine technical superintendent, moving into executive roles and taking over management of the shipping arm in 1994.
Since buying out family interests in 2004 and taking over as CEO in the same year, Mr Balzarini oversaw period of rapid expansion, during which time Wellard commissioned and launched several big livestock carriers including the Ocean Outback, Ocean Swagman and Ocean Shearer, and drove the growth of the high-volume cattle export trade into Indonesia.
Banking on China’s emergence as Australia’s next major market for slaughter and feeder cattle, Mr Balzarini also oversaw the company’s public listing in November 2015 in a bid to raise capital to fund further fleet expansions in anticipation of what was seen as a potential one million plus cattle trade per year.
But for various reasons including Chinese protocol restrictions and resistance to higher than expected Australian cattle prices the trade to China has yet to reach anywhere near that apparent potential, still sitting at around 30,000 slaughter cattle per year.
Successive financial losses including a $75m loss in FY2017 amid expanding drought and demand disruptions in key markets including Indonesia and Vietnam and sheep export trade turbulence have weighed heavily on investor confidence in the exporter.
Wellard’s share price has gradually tumbled from an opening mark of $1.39c/share three and a half years ago to 3.9c per share this morning.
A board reshuffle and management restructure in November 2017 saw Mr Balzarini replaced as CEO by Fred Troncone, but he continued to hold some executive responsibilities including for strategy.
This morning’s announcement to the ASX by Wellard Limited confirms that “key man” clauses in the copmany’s vessel finance agreement with Italian bank and shipping finance specialist Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. have now been removed, which technically winds up Mr. Balzarini’s executive roles with Wellard.
Mr Balzarini remains a non-executive director of the Company and is still a shareholder of the company through WGH Holdings Pty Ltd which holds 15pc of Wellard shares.
Wellard Chairman John Klepec, who served as Hancock Prospecting’s chief development officer from 2000-2016, continues in the role of Executive Chairman, which he took on in April 2018.
Given that Mr Balzarini has not been in an operational role for 20 months the announcement today is not expected to have a material impact on the company’s operations.
Wellard announced a shift in strategy which included reducing its focus on trading its own livestock and increasing chartering of its vessels external customers last year and in February this year announced its first profit since listing of $2.9m for the six months to December 31.
A new CEO has not yet been named.
The Wellard statement to the ASX this morning:
Wellard Chief Executive Officer change
Wellard Limited (ASX:WLD) (Wellard or the Company) announces today that Mr. Mauro Balzarini has ceased the role of Chief Executive Officer. Wellard has negotiated the removal of certain “key man” clauses and their consequences contained in its vessel finance agreement with Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. Therefore the cessation of Mr. Balzarini’s employment as CEO no longer triggers an immediate prepayment event under the Intesa facility, and it does not constitute a cross default or breach under any of the Company’s other financing arrangements. The terms of Mr. Balzarini’s departure from Wellard are currently being finalised. At present, Mr. Balzarini remains a non-executive director of the Company. Wellard Chairman John Klepec will continue in the role of Executive Chairman.