Vale CEO Ousted as Brazil Seeks New Blood Before Reorganization

Updated on
  • Ferreira contract won’t be renewed when it terminates in May
  • He took the job in 2011 as part of shakeup driven by Rousseff

Brazil is moving to cast off the last shackles of government influence at iron-ore giant Vale SA -- but not before replacing the CEO with someone more politically palatable.

Murilo Ferreira’s six-year contract won’t be renewed when it expires in May, the Rio de Janeiro-based company said in a statement Friday. The announcement came days after Vale unveiled a plan to scrap its controlling shareholder pact amid criticism the miner was run like a quasi state company.

While the company didn’t say who decided Ferreira’s fate, analysts including Upside Investor’s Pedro Galdi say politics were involved. He took the CEO job in 2011 as part of a management shakeup driven by then-president Dilma Rousseff. The current government of Michel Temer has sought to distance itself from authorities and executives with perceived allegiances to Rousseff, who was impeached last year.

“Clearly this is a political decision and Temer will have the final say in appointing the new CEO,” Galdi said by telephone from Sao Paulo. “This should be the last time there is political interference in appointing a CEO, as Vale is breaking down control.”

Brazil’s presidency didn’t respond to e-mails requesting comment. Vale’s shares fell 0.5 percent in Sao Paulo on Friday.

Under Ferreira, 63, the company has been on a roller coaster ride. Over that period, Vale’s shares lost about 30 percent as commodity prices tumbled amid slowing Chinese demand and expanding supply. In the past year, though, there’s been a sharp turnaround.

As the CEO stepped up cost- and debt-cutting efforts and prices recovered, the company’s stock jumped more than 250 percent, outperforming rivals.

His efforts to focus on new deposits in northern Brazil were applauded by investors. That shift has culminated in a $14 billion mining complex in an area where ore quality is higher and costs will be lower. But back in Vale’s home state of Minas Gerais, the strategy riled politicians from the PMDB party, to which Temer also belongs.

While local political opposition would normally be of little consequence for an independently run company, Vale is controlled by a holding company whose owners include state pension funds and the country’s development bank.

Some PMDB lawmakers rallied behind criticism over Vale’s initial response to a tailings dam collapse at its joint venture with BHP Billiton Ltd. in November 2015. Vale has defended both its initial and ongoing response to the Samarco disaster and its strategy to focus investments on low-cost deposits in northern Brazil.

“I never entered the political arena to guarantee my term,” Ferreira said Friday on a conference call with journalists.

Replacement Candidates

He said he had no knowledge if his successor would be an executive from the current management team such as Clovis Torres, the head of human resources, Peter Poppinga, the head of ferrous metals, or Luciano Pires, the chief financial officer. Local media also has cited Nelson Silva, the head of strategy at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as a potential candidate. Petrobras didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

The board will use an international recruiting firm in its search for a replacement, Vale said in a separate statement.

The next CEO will take over Ferreira’s effort to break up a controlling shareholder group that has made Vale a quasi-state-controlled company.

On Monday, the alliance that has controlled Vale since its 1997 privatization announced a plan to untangle a share structure that inhibited transparency. That agreement will prevent any single shareholder from owning more than 25 percent of outstanding stock without making a public offering first.

The steps are meant to facilitate Vale’s listing on a section of Brazil’s exchange with higher standards of corporate governance. Vale will become one of the few major Brazilian corporations without a family or controlling group.

“Given the government influence at Vale, and the significant changes that the Temer administration has made across the board in Brazil, it’s not too surprising to see Ferreira leave as he was appointed CEO under the Dilma administration,” said James Gulbrandsen, a portfolio manager at NCH Capital in Brazil.

“It is highly unlikely that Vale will appoint a new CEO that the market won’t like given how attuned to the market the Temer administration has been,” Gulbrandsen said.

Murilo Ferreira, chief executive officer of Vale SA

Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg