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Ken Seitz, newly appointed CEO of Nutrien Ltd.Handout

Nutrien Ltd. NTR-T has named Ken Seitz as its permanent chief executive as the company hopes to bring stability to the top leadership position after a period of considerable turmoil.

Mr. Seitz was appointed in January on an interim basis after the sudden exit of Mayo Schmidt, who was fired after less than a year on the job. Mr. Schmidt’s predecessor, Chuck Magro, was also terminated by the board last year.

Mr. Seitz gets the nod to lead Nutrien through one of the most volatile periods for the global food industry in recent memory.

A mechanical engineer by training, he grew up on a dairy farm in Saskatchewan. Earlier in his career, he spent more than 15 years at uranium miner Cameco Corp. in various positions, including project engineer and chief commercial officer. Later, he ran Canpotex Ltd., which markets and exports potash produced in Saskatchewan. In 2019, he joined Nutrien as head of its potash division.

“I really, really believe in this company and what we do,” he said in an interview.

In a statement, Nutrien said Mr. Seitz has already delivered “bold actions in response to changes in agricultural markets, advanced the organization’s sustainability strategy and brought together key parties to help navigate unprecedented global food security challenges.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a major supplier of wheat and corn, caused fertilizer prices to shoot up earlier in the year. In addition, sanctions against Moscow crimped exports of fertilizers and grains out of Russia. Nutrien said in June that it would boost its annual potash production by more than 20 per cent, to 18 million tonnes, to help fill global shortages.

Nutrien cuts profit forecast over concern in nitrogen prices as search for permanent CEO continues

Last month the company announced the acquisition of Brazilian retail fertilizer company Casa do Adubo S.A. as it forges ahead on an expansion into Latin America.

Steve Hansen, an analyst with Raymond James, had tipped Mr. Seitz to get the top job at Nutrien.

“He’s a solid pick and well capable of doing a great job,” he said.

Mr. Seitz, he added, has proven himself skilled at liaising with investors, and his extensive experience on the potash side of the business is extremely valuable. As a known entity to the board, he was also seen as a safer choice than an external candidate.

“The board really couldn’t afford any more missteps like they’d had in the past,” Mr. Hansen said.

Nutrien was formed in 2018 after Agrium Inc. merged with PotashCorp of Saskatchewan. Mr. Magro led the new company from the get-go but was let go last year after a fallout with the board over talks with BHP Group Ltd. on the Jansen potash project in Saskatchewan. He had been gung ho about pursuing a joint venture on the project with BHP, but the board, then led by Mr. Schmidt, disagreed.

Mr. Schmidt subsequently took over as CEO. He was let go eight months later, The Globe and Mail reported, after clashes with subordinates, poor performance in investor meetings and disagreements with the board.

Nutrien last week reported a net profit of US$3.6-billion for the second quarter, a more than doubling of earnings year over year. The growth was driven by robust performance in its retail and potash segments. The company, however, trimmed its full-year forecast owing to anticipated weakness in the nitrogen market.

Over the past few months, the global food supply shortfall has eased somewhat, with Russia able to find willing buyers for its grains and fertilizers. Ukraine also recently resumed shipments of grain under a United Nations-brokered deal to help alleviate shortfalls. Previously, a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports prevented such shipments.

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