Saskatoon-based Nutrien, the world’s biggest fertilizer company, gave no reason for the swift exit of Mr. Schmidt, which it announced in a press release on Tuesday. When Chuck Magro stepped down as CEO in April, the company also disclosed little or no information, saying only that he was leaving to pursue other opportunities.
Mr. Schmidt will be replaced as CEO on an interim basis by Ken Seitz, head of the company’s potash division. Before his brief tenure as CEO, Mr. Schmidt had been the chairman of Nutrien for just under two years.
“We cannot comment on the specific details of his departure, as there are legal constraints on what we can say,” Megan Fielding, spokesperson for Nutrien, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Fielding also declined to answer whether Mr. Schmidt was terminated for cause, again citing legal constraints.
Mr. Schmidt did not respond to a request for comment.
Ben Isaacson, analyst with Scotia Capital, wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday that the abrupt departure of Mr. Schmidt is troubling, and bizarre, given the vacuum of information.
“Nutrien would be best served by sharing with all of its stakeholders roughly what’s going on and why,” Mr. Isaacson said.
He added that investors will likely penalize Nutrien “due to perceived dysfunction at the board and senior leadership levels.”
The price of shares in Nutrien fell by 4 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday, to close at $91.25 apiece.
A veteran of the agri-food business, Mr. Schmidt ran grain-handler Viterra Inc. for a decade before it was acquired by Glencore International in 2012. Later, he became CEO of Ontario’s Hydro One, stepping down in 2018 amid heated political rhetoric. Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded a clean sweep of the leadership at the utility, partly based on his assertion that executives were paid far too much money.
Mr. Schmidt could be in store for a sizable severance as he exits Nutrien.
“There will be payments as part of Mayo leaving his role according to his contract,” Ms. Fielding said.
She would not specify the amount, but said it will be disclosed in the company’s proxy circular, which typically comes out in the spring.
According to the company’s last proxy circular, Mr. Magro was entitled to a payment of about US$7.84-million in cash and pension benefits after he left. In addition, based on Nutrien’s disclosures and other insider-ownership records, Mr. Magro had stock options worth US$27.6-million when he departed in April.
Nutrien has yet to disclose Mr. Schmidt’s employment arrangements. However, insider-ownership records show Mr. Schmidt received 92,144 share awards in May – a grant worth about US$5.55-milion under one method of disclosure. He also had nearly 50,000 share units accumulated from his time as a director of the company. All told, those stock holdings were worth about US$10.8-million at Monday’s closing price.
Also leaving Nutrien is Sandip Lalli, executive vice-president and chief of staff to Mr. Schmidt. Ms. Lalli, who is well known in Calgary as the former head of the city’s chamber of commerce, had joined the company in July, 2021, shortly after Mr. Schmidt replaced Mr. Magro as CEO. “As a result of the CEO transition, it was determined that the chief of staff position was not required and Sandip has left Nutrien,” Ms. Fielding said in an e-mail.
Before joining Nutrien, Ms. Lalli was a board member of a transport and logistics facility, the Global Transportation Hub in Regina, a Saskatchewan Crown corporation. She served on the board alongside Mr. Schmidt’s wife, Zahra AlHarazi-Schmidt.
The Globe and Mail reported last year that Mr. Magro stepped down after friction with Nutrien’s board over talks with Australian mining giant BHP Group Ltd. about a multibillion-dollar deal centred on the Jansen potash project in Saskatchewan, which is owned by BHP. Mr. Magro pushed for a deal with BHP in which Nutrien would spin off its retail division to free up cash for an investment in Jansen. A number of board members disagreed with the strategy. Nutrien under Mr. Schmidt continued to engage with BHP over a possible deal with Jansen, but selling the retail division was taken off the table as an option, The Globe reported. Ultimately, under Mr. Schmidt, talks between Nutrien and BHP fizzled, and BHP announced in August it was going it alone on the project.
BHP has subsequently said it would still consider bringing on a partner at Jansen to share the considerable capital expenditure requirements over the next few years. BHP has already spent more than $4-billion on Jansen and expects to spend as much as $5.7-billion more over the next few years to bring it into production.
Mr. Schmidt’s replacement at Nutrien, Mr. Seitz, joined Nutrien in 2019. He is the former CEO of Canpotex, a major potash supplier.
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