Comvita chief executive to step down

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Comvita chief executive Scott Coulter: Signalling change. Photo/Supplied.

Scott Coulter, Comvita’s chief executive for the past four years, and has been with the company for 16 years, will step down this September.

Former chief executive and Comvita director Brett Hewlett is taking on a temporary executive role to review the company’s underperforming assets. Coulter will retain a governance role in the manuka honey products company’s China business.

Chairman Neil Craig said Coulter’s commitment to Comvita since joining the company in 2003 had been outstanding.

“He will be most remembered for his pioneering work in developing our market presence in Australia, United Kingdom, North America and Asia,” said Craig in a statement.

“Scott has fostered the relationship with our Chinese partners over the past 16 years and has been a key driver of Comvita’s success in the China market.”

The honey company announced in April that it would buy out its 49 percent Chinese joint venture partner for about $20 million and has been effectively the sole manager since April 1.

Time right for change

Coulter told Bay of Plenty Business News he had chosen to step down once the Chinese business became fully owned.

“We have got the China business over the line and it is beginning to improve,” he said. “We’re now looking at what Comvita requires to get to the next level.”

Coulter said Comvita was an amazing business that had been “a labour of love” for many years. 

“I think it’s time for me from a personal perspective to say I’ve done what I needed to do and what I can,” he said.

Scott has fostered the relationship with our Chinese partners over the past 16 years and has been a key driver of Comvita’s success in the China market.”

– Neil Craig

“I’ve been promising my family for a long time to spend more time with them, on the boat and in the garden.”

Coulter will remain on Comvita’s China board and maintain those links, including a long-standing personal relationship with the China partner. 

“My role will be to govern that business, but over time help whoever comes in as CEO to build on that relationship,” he said.

Comvita shares have fallen around 50 percent since Coulter took over the top job in October 2015 and the company has been struggling with poor seasonal supply and other issues.

In February, Comvita reported a first-half net loss of $2.7 million, a turn-around from a net $3.7 million profit in the previous first half. 

Comvita said in a statement the China business was trading profitably and was a key component of a wider strategic review being undertaken by the board over the last 12 months.

Hewlett will head a special purpose board sub-committee charged with undertaking a review of the under-performing assets of the business as well as structural, balance sheet, leadership and organisation considerations.

Specifically, the sub-committee will examine the possibility of a more formal separation between the “brand” and “supply” components of the business. 

External advisers will be retained as required to ensure minimal impact on the day-to-day operations of Comvita.

Any decisions resulting from the review will be announced at the annual shareholders’ meeting in October, when the company will also seek any necessary shareholder approvals.

“In the interim period, it is ‘business as usual’ in terms of retaining a focus on growth in sales, a continuing search for improvements in operational efficiencies and profit optimisation.”

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David Porter

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