Louis Dreyfus Selects CEO as Billionaire Owner Tightens Grip

Updated on
  • Asia head Gonzalo Ramirez to take over as CEO in October
  • Margarita Louis-Dreyfus to become non-executive chairman

Louis Dreyfus Commodities BV named Gonzalo Ramirez as chief executive officer, ending a 17-month search for the top job at the 164-year-old commodity trader.

Ramirez, head of the company’s Asia Region, will assume the CEO role at the world’s largest raw-cotton and rice trader on Oct. 1, Louis Dreyfus said Friday in a statement. The 48-year-old Argentine national will be tasked with steering Dreyfus through the collapse in food commodity prices and economic turbulence in key markets from Latin America to Russia.

“The Supervisory Board is confident that Gonzalo is well placed to drive our company forward during this time of change for the entire agribusiness industry,” Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, who controls the company through a family trust, said in the statement. The billionaire will become non-executive chairman, succeeding Serge Schoen who becomes her deputy, the company said.

Louis-Dreyfus has tightened her grip on the trading house by purchasing more shares in Louis Dreyfus Holding BV from family members. The trust, named Akira, now owns about 80 percent Louis Dreyfus Holding, which controls about 85 percent of Louis Dreyfus Commodities.

Deputy CEO

Based in Rotterdam with its major operations in Geneva, Dreyfus has been searching for a permanent CEO since April 2014. An agreement to hire former Viterra Inc. CEO Mayo Schmidt unraveled and forced the company to make a surprise statement on New Year’s Eve last year that Schmidt wouldn’t join the company.

Claude Ehlinger, who has been leading operations at Louis Dreyfus, will remain as deputy CEO. His role as chief financial officer will be taken by Sandrine Teran, who is global head of tax and group corporate secretary.

Rival agricultural commodity trader Cargill Inc. said this month that Gert-Jan “G.J.” van den Akker would return to the largest closely held U.S. company after leaving for Louis Dreyfus two years ago. Van den Akker was widely seen as a potential CEO at Louis Dreyfus before his departure.

Trishul Mandana, Louis Dreyfus’s former head of coffee trading, left late last year after more than 22 years with the company. In April, he joined Volcafe, the coffee division of ED&F Man.

Management Realignment

Louis-Dreyfus said at a March press briefing in Paris that it may be difficult to find a non-insider able to lead the firm.

“Generally, emotionally, it will make it difficult for an outsider,” she said. “Our company is really special and we don’t want to jeopardize that if we see small alignments that are not within our culture.”

Louis Dreyfus, which last year reported net income of $648 million, has been aligning management and governance to the standards of publicly traded companies in case of an initial public offering or sale of a shareholding. There aren’t any immediate plans for a sale, Louis-Dreyfus said in March.

The CEO search was led by the company’s supervisory board, which added three new members last year including Michel Demare, chairman of Syngenta AG and vice-chairman of UBS AG.

One of the four so-called ABCD agricultural commodity companies, including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., Bunge Ltd. and Cargill, Dreyfus makes up about a 10th of agricultural product trade flows, according to its website.

Ramirez will be the second Argentine at the top of one of the ABCDs, joining ADM’s Juan Ricardo Luciano. Ramirez joined Louis Dreyfus in 2005, working in oilseeds out of Buenos Aires, before postings in Paris, Madrid and Singapore. Prior to that, he spent 15 years with Dutch trader Nidera BV.