Akzo Nobel Appoints Maelys Castella First Female CFO

Akzo Nobel NV appointed Maelys Castella as chief financial officer, making her the only female CFO at one of the 25 companies on Amsterdam’s main stock index.

Castella, 47, will join Europe’s largest paintmaker on Sept. 15 from industrial-gas producer Air Liquide SA, where she has worked for 14 years and most recently was group deputy CFO, Akzo Nobel said in a statement today.

Chief Executive Officer Ton Buechner is leading a broad reorganization to boost profitability at Akzo Nobel, a sprawling company that makes Dulux paints, chemicals and wood finishes. Castella will be the first female CFO and the second woman to serve on the executive committee of a company that dates to the founding of a forge in 1646 and later encompassed businesses created by Alfred Nobel, for whom the Nobel Prize is named.

Castella “brings a wealth of experience in finance and will add fresh impetus to our ongoing commitment to improve operational excellence and drive value creation,” Buechner said in the statement.

The new finance chief joins Akzo as it reorganizes to bring profitability back in line with peers such as PPG Industries Inc. Buechner has stripped away management levels at the household coatings business and is centralizing roles that oversee areas such as research and development. Akzo has also sold operations in North America to focus on key European markets and global high-growth regions.

Profitability Push

Last year, Akzo Nobel switched its focus from sales-driven to returns-driven targets, meaning it’s examining less profitable businesses and spinning them off when possible. The company’s operations include commodity chemicals such as chlorine, marine coatings and cosmetic ingredients. Buechner has set goals for 2015 of an operating margin at 9 percent of sales and a 14 percent return on investment.

Castella succeeds Keith Nichols and will be the only female CFO among the companies on the AEX Index until Geraldine Matchett moves from SGS SA, a Swiss industrial inspection firm, to take that position at Royal DSM NV, the world’s largest vitamin maker, in December. Marjan Oudeman served on Akzo’s executive committee as human resources chief before becoming president of Utrecht University last year.

“We focused on looking for the best candidate,” Diana Abrahams, a spokeswoman for Akzo Nobel, said by telephone. “But we did look whether there was an adequate number of women available.”

Castella Background

A French national, Castella joined Air Liquide as group financing manager in 2000. She previously worked for ELF Oil & Gas Group, in positions including financing and capital markets manager, according to Akzo.

“Maelys is a high-caliber professional who will bring key skills and capabilities to the company,” Antony Burgmans, supervisory board chairman, said in the statement. Akzo has about 50,000 employees and operations in more than 80 countries.

Akzo shares gained 1.1 percent to 54.95 euros at the close of trading in Amsterdam, giving the company a market value of 13.4 billion euros ($18.2 billion).

The company said in January that Nichols planned to leave at the end of June. From July 1 until Castella takes her post, Buechner will temporarily take on the CFO role, Akzo Nobel said.

Nichols started working at the company in 2005 and became CFO in May 2008. The departing CFO helped oversee a global expansion under Buechner’s predecessor Hans Wijers up to the current efficiency drive. He also helped integrate acquisitions such as the $17 billion takeover of Imperial Chemical Industries, before supervising divestitures such as the sale of its U.S. decorative paints unit to PPG.

Nichols, 54, hasn’t yet announced where he’ll work next or whether he’ll stay in the Netherlands. His family is based in the U.K.

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