Cofco Agri CEO Resigns in Setback for Grain-Trading Plan

  • Matt Jansen left earlier this week for personal reasons
  • Cofco Vice President Jingtao Chi named as his replacement

Cofco Corp.’s Matt Jansen quit as the head of its international commodity trading unit, the latest setback to the ambitions of China’s biggest food company to create an agriculture merchant to rival the world’s largest. The firm named Cofco Vice President Jingtao Chi as his replacement.

Jansen, who became chief executive officer of Cofco Agri Ltd. less than two years ago, left earlier this week for personal reasons, the company said in a statement, confirming the news first reported by Bloomberg Thursday. He’ll still act as an interim adviser. Jingtao Chi, known as Johnny, has worked at Cofco for 14 years and led its import and export business for the past seven.

“Johnny successfully merged and consolidated three Cofco agriculture entities into a single platform that has produced a total turnaround in performance,” said Cofco Corp. President Patrick Yu. “We are confident that Johnny will lead Cofco International to our next stage of growth.”

The resignation of Jansen, an American who rose through the ranks at Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. to head oilseeds trading before joining Cofco in 2015, could lead to a significant shift in trading strategy for the Chinese state-owned group. Cofco had been trying to create a global giant that can compete with companies including ADM, Bunge Ltd., Cargill Inc. and Louis Dreyfus Co., the world’s largest grain traders by volume, known collectively as the “ABCDs."

Chinese Takeover

"The Chinese are now taking over and Cofco Agri will remain a sourcing arm of agricultural commodities, but will not have international trading ambitions," said Jean-Francois Lambert, an industry consultant and former commodity trade-finance banker at HSBC Holdings Plc.

Kevin Brassington, global head of grains and oilseeds, is also leaving, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the departure isn’t public. Cofco didn’t comment on Brassington and representatives of the trading arm in Geneva didn’t respond to several phone calls on Thursday and Friday.

Cofco tried to establish its own trading business over the past two years by buying the grain unit of Hong Kong-based rival Noble Group Ltd. and Dutch grains trader Nidera BV as part of a series of deals valued at about $4 billion. The company planned to list shares in the trading arm within four years, Jansen said in an interview in April.

The Chinese plans suffered several setbacks. Nidera was rocked by scandal, first losing about $200 million due to the actions of a rogue trader and then discovering a $150 million hole in the accounts of its Brazilian unit.

Jansen joined Cofco under former Chairman Frank Ning, who is now chairman of Sinochem Group. Brassington also worked at ADM, where he was the head of oilseeds in Europe until September 2015.

Cofco Agri has suffered several high-profile departures over the past year, with top traders in wheat and corn leaving the firm. Agricultural commodity trading companies have seen their profitability decline sharply over the last two years, as top producers harvested record crops, following almost a decade of booming profits.

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