By Christine Stebbins and Tom Polansek
CHICAGO, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Agribusiness Cargill Inc on Wednesday said its chief executive officer will step down on Dec. 1 in the latest management shuffle among the world's top agricultural trading houses.
CEO Gregory Page, 62, will be replaced by David MacLennan, Cargill's president and chief operating officer, as part of the company's ongoing succession plans, the company said.
MacLennan told Reuters that Cargill will keep on the same path set under Page's leadership, focusing on investments outside of North America while expanding their energy business to include more physical trade.
"Overall, we like our mix of hard asset businesses, primary and secondary processing, value-added foods, trading relative to risk management for our customers and our own businesses," he said.
MacLennan added that he does not see a change in the business mix of trading relative to processing "other than energy."
Minneapolis-based Cargill is one of the world's largest privately held corporations and a top commodities trader. It reported earnings of $2.31 billion for the fiscal year that ended May 31, compared with $1.17 billion a year ago.
Cargill, a leading global grains exporter, is among four "ABCD" companies that dominate the flow of agricultural goods around the world. The others are Archer Daniels Midland Co , Bunge Ltd and Louis Dreyfus Corp.
The chief executives of Louis Dreyfus Commodities and Bunge stepped down this summer.
MacLennan said he sees Cargill's greatest growth opportunities in Brazil - as the country expands crop production and shipping infrastructure - and in Africa and China where demand for food will continue to rise.
"Seventy-five percent of our capital in the last five years have been invested outside the United States," MacLennan said. "It will continue to be more outside of North America rather than inside of North America."
MacLennan, 54, joined Cargill in 1991 and has worked in its financial, risk management, energy and animal protein businesses in the United States, London and Geneva. He became president and COO in 2011.
"The challenge is navigating a world that has a lot of volatility," MacLennan said.
Volatility has been a factor in Cargill earnings in recent years, most notably fiscal 2012 when profits fell 56 percent to $1.17 billion as Cargill was squeezed by soft economies and market volatility.
Company officials said the leadership change was not related to recent volatility and noted the 148-year-old company had record earnings five out of the last six years with Page at the helm.
Page, who has worked for Cargill for 39 years and is stepping down from chief executive before Cargill's mandatory retirement age of 65, will become the company's executive chairman. In that role, Page will lead the board and be a resource to the company.
"To the outside world this may come about as news - amongst our leadership team this have been a well vetted process," said Page, adding the transition began more than two years ago to "maintain continuity in Cargill."
MacLennan will be unique among Cargill's CEOs because he did not rise through the ranks of managing Cargill's traditional businesses like grains or oilseed processing, said Ken Morrison, a trader who worked for Cargill for 27 years.
Morrison, who now publishes a commodity newsletter, said he worked with MacLennan in Cargill's financial markets division in Minneapolis.
MacLennan has "a very positive balance of experience," Morrison said. He has developed "a solid sense of Cargill's culture and business, probably throughout his entire life,' Morrison said.
MacLennan's father, Ev, was formerly a top official in Cargill's human resources division.
Cargill remains privately held by descendents of the founders from the Cargill and MacMillan families.
Asked if Cargill will go public in the near future, MacLennan said: "No. The families' commitment to staying private is unchanged."