Noble Names Former Goldman Asia Chief Alireza as New CEO

Noble Group Ltd Chairman Richard Elman
The departure, which the company said was due to personal reasons, was at least the fourth senior manager in 12 months as Noble founder Richard Elman looked for a successor. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Noble Group Ltd. named Yusuf Alireza, formerly co-president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Asia-excluding-Japan unit, as chief executive officer to lead Asia’s biggest commodity supplier.

Alireza will start in the role on April 16, Hong Kong-based Noble said yesterday in a statement. Alireza replaces Noble Chairman Richard Elman, who had acted as CEO since Ricardo Leiman resigned in November.

Alireza inherits a company that has grown into Asia’s biggest listed commodity trader by sales, overtaking century-old rivals in Japan including Marubeni Corp. Noble posted its first quarterly loss in about 14 years in November because of a downturn in its cotton and carbon-trading businesses.

“I do not foresee major changes to the way business is run given that Richard Elman remains as chairman,” Lee Wen Ching, a Singapore-based analyst at CIMB Research Pte., said yesterday by phone. One of the biggest challenges for Alireza is “navigating the environment of more pronounced commodity price volatility. Noble going forward will have to be more alert in managing such risks.”

Noble rose 2.4 percent to S$1.475 at 9:43 a.m. in Singapore. The statement came after the market closed yesterday.

“These appointments are part of Noble’s succession planning, and further strengthen our leadership as I prepare to reduce my day-to-day involvement,” Elman said in the statement. Noble also appointed William Randall as a member of the board.

Departing Managers

Leiman, who quit as CEO on the same day the company posted its third-quarter loss, left because of personal reasons and was at least the fourth senior manager to leave in 12 months.

Alireza, 41, is leaving Goldman Sachs after 19 years with the company, according to an internal memo on Nov. 11. Goldman promoted him in January 2011 to oversee trading operations.

He joined Goldman’s fixed-income research group in New York in 1992 and had held positions in fixed-income sales and hedge fund sales, rising to become a partner in 2004, according to the memo. He moved to Hong Kong in 2008 to run the securities division in the Asia-Pacific region.

“During the time I have spent in Asia, I have had the opportunity to get to know the Noble Group, and have great respect for the organization and its people,” Alireza said yesterday in the statement.

Elman, who left school at 15 years of age, has transformed Noble from a commodities trader to one that produces, ships and sells energy, metals and food materials. Singapore-listed Noble has $78 billion in trailing 12-month sales, besting rivals including Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Major Review

A third-quarter loss of $17.5 million has thrown the company into a “major review” of its businesses to improve profitability, the company said last year. The loss was due to a systematic default by mostly U.S. farmers to deliver cotton, Noble’s need to buy the material in the spot market, and a plunge in the price of carbon credits, the company said Nov. 9.

“We just have to shape up and deal with the situation,” Elman, a former scrapyard worker who set up Noble with $100,000 in savings in a small Hong Kong office, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television on Jan. 16. “Everybody just has to be a little more cautious, a little more alert.”

Noble may have swung to a profit of $106 million in the final quarter of last year, James Koh, an analyst with Kim Eng Holdings Ltd., said yesterday in a report. He has a “buy” rating on the stock. Noble is due to report earnings on Feb. 28.

Randall, who joined Noble in 1997 and is currently the group’s head of energy coal and carbon complex, will also be responsible for hard commodities, Noble said yesterday.

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