The man who once righted the listing Saskatchewan Wheat Pool is now at the helm of the world’s largest crop input provider.
Mayo Schmidt has been appointed as president and chief executive officer of Nutrien Ltd. after the sudden and surprising departure of Chuck Magro, who is pursuing other opportunities.
Schmidt stepped down from his position of chair of Nutrien’s board of directors to take the appointment.
Prior to that he was on the board of Agrium, which became Nutrien after the 2018 merger with Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.
Most people in the agriculture sector remember Schmidt for his role as president and CEO of Viterra Inc. and Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.
When Schmidt took over the reins at Sask. Pool in 2000, the company was drowning in $1 billion of total debt following a three-year, $799 million expansion and construction program by his predecessor.
By Jan. 31, 2003, the pool was officially in default on its loans following two years of drought-reduced revenues.
Schmidt cobbled together a deal that appeased both banks and bondholders and a few days later the pool’s lines of credit were once again fully funded.
“He pulled Saskatchewan Wheat Pool back from the brink and changed it dramatically,” said Murray Fulton, director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.
Schmidt went on to sell off the pool’s non-core assets to pay off debt. He then stunned the grain industry with a hostile takeover of Agricore United, leading to the formation of Viterra, which was later acquired by Glencore International.
Glencore soon sold off Viterra’s crop input business with the vast majority of those assets being acquired by Agrium.
Hugh Wagner, general secretary of the Grain and General Services Union, had many dealings with Schmidt when he was head of SWP and Viterra.
“He’s very focused and very determined to follow through on his agenda,” he said.
“That consistent message and image is one of his hallmarks. He’s not someone who vacillates or changes course quickly.”
Wagner said he is not surprised to see him back in a leadership role in agriculture and looks forward to bargaining with him on behalf of hundreds of GSU members working at Nutrien in Saskatchewan.
He doesn’t think Schmidt will be facing the same kind of transformation that was required at SWP.
“(Nutrien) has a sound central business model that I don’t see changing dramatically,” said Wagner.
Andrew Wong, investment analyst with RBC Dominion Securities, thinks it is a good appointment by Nutrien’s board.
“We believe Mr. Schmidt has the right expertise and background in agriculture to step into the new role,” he said in a recent note to investors.
Fai Lee, equity analyst with Odlum Brown, offered a similar assessment.
“With his strong agricultural background and previous responsibilities as Nutrien’s chair, we believe he will be able to smoothly transition into his new role as president and CEO with minimal difficulty,” he said in a note.