Syngenta Hires Ex-DuPont Veteran as New CEO as China Deal Looms

  • Univar's Erik Fyrwald was former head of agriculture at DuPont
  • New CEO to take over on June 1 to get ChemChina deal over line

Syngenta AG said former DuPont Co. director Erik Fyrwald will take over as chief executive officer to steer the Swiss agrochemical maker through the final stages of its $43 billion takeover by state-owned China National Chemical Corp.

Currently CEO of U.S. chemical distributor Univar Inc., Fyrwald will replace John Ramsay, who has run Syngenta on an interim basis since November after the sudden departure of Mike Mack, the Basel-based company said in a statement on Wednesday. Fyrwald left DuPont after 27 years in 2008 and joined Univar four years ago.

The former head of DuPont’s agrochemical and seeds business will need to negotiate antitrust reviews before Syngenta can fall under the ownership of ChemChina, as the Chinese company is known. A hostile approach from Monsanto Co. of the U.S. last year, the planned merger of Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont, and pressure for a deal from Syngenta shareholders led executives at the Swiss pesticide maker to seek refuge with China, rather than go it alone.

Fyrwald is “a really good choice,” said Mark Garrett, the CEO of Abu Dhabi-owned plastics maker Borealis AG, who worked directly under Fyrwald at DuPont. “He’s been around for a while and knows the agriculture space well.”

Fyrwald’s career between DuPont and Univar includes a spell as CEO of water treatment company Nalco, at a time when Warren Buffett took a stake. The business was later sold to EcoLab Inc. and Fyrwald stayed on to lead that company. Syngenta is aiming to complete its sale to ChemChina by the end of the year and has said the process of getting regulatory approval remains on track.

Ramsay will stay on in a supporting role when the new CEO starts on June 1, Chairman Michel Demare said in the statement.

Syngenta shares were little changed at 385.60 francs as of 11 a.m. in Zurich, valuing the company at 35.8 billion francs ($37.5 billion).

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